Who: Toronto Maple Leafs (9-8-4, 22 points, 4th place Atlantic Division) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (10-7-2, 22 points, 5th place Metropolitan Division)
When: 7:00 p.m. eastern
How to Watch: AT&T Sportsnet in the Pittsburgh viewing area, NHL Network if you’re in America but not the Western PA area, Sportsnet in Canada
Opponent Track: The Leafs are on a four game losing streak, including the last three in regulation and including a 4-2 home loss last night to rival Boston. But they had won three games before that, so we get to a 3-3-1 record in the month of November.
Pens path ahead: Pittsburgh gets two days off after this, then preps for a home-and-home with NYI next week on Tuesday (at PPG) and Thursday (in New York) in the immediate future.
Season Series: This is the first meeting and the teams won’t see each other again until a home-and-home of their own in February. Toronto returns to the ‘Burgh on Feb. 18th then the Pens make their only trip to TOR on Feb. 20th to complete the regular season series.
Recent history: The Pens were just 1-2-0 vs. the Leafs last year, scoring only five total goals in the three games. Pittsburgh is just 3-5-1 in the past three seasons against Toronto.
SBN Team Counterpart: It’s our pals Pension Plan Puppets for all your news and musing about the Leafs.
Player Stats at a Glance
—Starting his fourth season in the NHL, Auston Matthews has been tremendous at producing goals while healthy and he’s stayed healthy to this point of the year with 14 goals (including one last night) in 21 games. Unfortunately the other Leafs’ star forwards in John Tavares (out seven games earlier in the year with a broken finger) and Mitch Marner (out now with an ankle injury) haven’t been as lucky.
—After his contract holdout last year, William Nylander only scored 7 goals in 54 games last season. He already has 8 goals (in 21 games) so far this year.
—One player they’re looking a little more from is Tyson Barrie, with no goals and five assists (and a team worst -6 +/-) so far in his first year in Toronto. Barrie scored 14 goals and added 45 assists last season in Colorado, with a similar output in the year before in 2017-18 too (14g+43a in just 68 games). So no goals in 21 games at the season’s quarter mark is pretty surprising.
Possible Lines (based on last night’s game)
Zach Hyman - John Tavares - Kasperi Kapanen
Andreas Johnsson - Auston Matthews - William Nylander
Ilya Mikheyev - Jason Spezza - Trevor Moore*
Nic Petan - Nick Shore - Frederik Gauthier
Morgan Rielly / Cody Ceci
Jake Muzzin / Tyson Barrie
Travis Dermott / Justin Holl
Starting goalie: Kasimir Kaskisuo**
Expected scratches: Dmytro Timashov, Alex Kerfoot (injured), Martin Marincin
Injured reserve: Mitch Marner
*Moore left the game hurt last night. If he can’t play tonight, one would assume that Timashov will slot into the bottom-six somewhere, possibly with a bigger mix up of the bottom two lines.
**Starter Frederik Andersen played last night, so we’re assuming it’ll be a battle of the backups in this game
Angst in Leafs-land
At just 4-4-2 in the last ten, and with just 22 points in the standings through 21 games, Toronto hasn’t exactly gotten off to the start that many expected up north of the border for a fairly stacked team that’s expecting to make a run with a deep and talented group like Matthews-Marner-Nylander young stars growing into their primes, Tavares as a star, good support in Kerfoot-Hyman-Kapanen-Johnsson and Rielly-Muzzin-Barrie on the back-end.
I mentioned the Leafs having had a great offence for years now, and that expected goals were currently too ruined to measure it for this season. Well, expected goals are apparently fixed now and they have shown that the Leafs have gone from blowing the doors off the league offensively to, uh, the opposite of that. The Leafs are 23rd in expected goals for now. Their defence has improved a bit, but not enough to make up for the offensive drop.
I will admit: this worries me the most, because I really didn’t see it coming. The Leafs were always a great team at generating high-quality chances and they had been for years. It was their calling card. There was no real reason to think it would change. But it did!
Auston Matthews isn’t generating chances quite like he used to, but he’s still very solid by this number. John Tavares and friends are really struggling, though. Getting Zach Hyman back should help (no, really—he’s always dominated by these numbers because he basically lives at point blank range, where the highest quality shots are) but a team that always got to the net has more or less stopped.
The Leafs are still getting tons of shots. They’re fourth in the league in CF/60 and are solidly above water in CF%. So they’re winning the shots battle—it’s just the shots they’re taking are a lot worse.
There’s a level at which this tradeoff is okay, and the Leafs are getting better defensively and riding the fact that they have elite shooters and a good starting goalie. I do not think we are reaching that level. If this is just a matter of learning a new system and the results will improve, fine. If the Leafs have learned how to beat the system somehow, fine. But I worry we are starting down a path that does not play to our strengths. For the first time in Mike Babcock’s Leafs tenure, you can argue the team may really be sacrificing offence for defence.
To an extent, injuries have been an issue. Matthews has been a constant and very productive. Hyman is finally back. Tavares missed time and still hasn’t quite been himself with a bad finger. Marner is now gone after a brutal injury. Obviously Pittsburgh won’t be sympathizing with the injuries they’ve dealt with as well.
And now for the Pens..
—You have to wonder how long Sidney Crosby might lead the team in points even though he’s out. Jake Guentzel should get by him eventually, but he only has one point in the last six games. Malkin ought to get up there soon enough, but he’s still 10 points back of Sid.
—Also feel like Malkin having 0 penalty minutes in his eight games is a tangible step forward in his playing more focused and better this season. Malkin had 89 PIMs in 67 games last year (27 minors). Both PIMs and minors led the team.
Potential Lines (projection)
Jake Guentzel - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Alex Galchenyuk- Jared McCann- Dominik Kahun
Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - Brandon Tanev
Dominik Simon- ?????? - Sam Lafferty
Brian Dumoulin/ John Marino
Marcus Pettersson / Justin Schultz
Jack Johnson / Juuso Riikola
Expected scratches: Chad Ruhwedel (healthy)
Injured: Patric Hornqvist (lower body, IR), Sidney Crosby (hernia surgery), Kris Letang (lower body injury)
—Bjugstad left the game last night and definitely did not look great going off the ice after his legs folded under him awkwardly as he went down to the ice. Assuming he’s out (which seems like a good assumption) the Pens are left with only 11 healthy forwards. Meaning they’ll probably call someone up from the minors.
That leads a question to what player they want. They could shift Lafferty to center, if not they might want Joseph Blandisi who played a bit of center before. This could also lead to bumping up Blueger a line, breaking up their fourth line. Or they could make that “fourth” line a third line, like we’ll project here. Or they could pull up a Adam Johnson or a Anthony Angello as a winger and use Laffery as 4C. They have options, but none are really that inspiring if they go this route.
Either way, the Pens will have to dig deep for this second night of a b-2-b, with about $28 million on the shelf. That’s a big disadvantage, but so it goes.
Need more offense
Malkin: "One goal is not enough... It's not fun. We have so many chances. We have to forget this game and play tomorrow. We will stay positive and try to score in our next game, I hope."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) November 16, 2019
Game infographic: https://t.co/QAJcvyFwF3 pic.twitter.com/KmMbMoqA8y
The Pens only have three total goals in the two games that Crosby has been out. They only have five goals (non-shootout aided) in the last three games. That’s not going to cut it as Malkin eludes to above.
Malkin had 7 SOG last night against New Jersey. Guentzel was right behind him with 6. That’s a great sign, both had chances right in front of the net too. Guentzel hit a cross-bar. With all the injuries, you definitely have to look at #71 and #59 to find the back of the net, and they’re digging and putting in the work, just a matter of actually converting. If Pittsburgh wants to secure a home win tonight, look for one or both to probably have to step up and score in this one.