Saturday, 30 November 2013

Game Twenty-Seven: Leafs vs. Habs

Third Period:

- Leafs come out charging, Habs need to survive first 5 minutes ... or else ....

- Game settling down a bit, which is fine from the Habs' perspective.

- Bernier keeping Leafs in this. Just barely.

- Bernier nice glove off the tip. Really liking Bourque's effort - quality tries on net, a less sharp netminder wouldn't have kept them all out.

- Habs a little too careful here, they'd better increase the tempo and bring this one home already.

- Definately one of Bourque's better games in awhile. Just needs to start producing points.

- Price forced to make a great save after Desharnais was mugged behind the Leafs' net. Refs have whistles firmly put away.

- 71 faceoffs and counting tonight, which is kinda crazy high.

- Plekanec can only shrug at that great save by Bernier - Leafs just won't quite go away, but time is running out.

-  Bourque can't be falted for lack of trying. Something's gotta give.

- Leafs really haven't been much of a threat since the 10 minute mark, but now they get a PP off a Van Riemsdyk dive. So weak.

- Phaneuf loses his cool, drives stake through the heart of Toronto's hopes. 

- Habs coasted to victory in the 3rd, really was no contest tonight, as Habs climb higher up the standings. The Leafs, judging by tonight's game, are heading for a hard fall.

Second Period:

- Leafs come out strong, really should have scored sans a lucky post bounce in Montreal's favor.

- Seems like Gallaher thrives these marquee Saturday night games against the Leafs. He knows a good portion of the nation is watching.

-  Parros vs. Orr. Let's just get it over with already.

- And they get it over with. Suitably, a draw. Now let's play some hockey.

- Kessel won't get them much easier than that. Leafs are snakebit.

- Pacioretty tackled on a breakaway. How that wasn't called ...

- Plekanec having quite the night - for not scoring any points. At least, yet.

- Leafs are gonna need a redeflect to beat Price tonight. If he sees it, it's not going in.

- Subban vs. Phaneuf ... Leafs will take that trade in the penalty box.

- Leafs pressing here, sensing that a goal surely must be close. But they'll have to be closer than 40 feet if they want to beat Price. So far most of their shots have been from long distance.

- Desharnais and Gallagher making an effective forechecking duo. Like their chemistry.

- Really there should be no reason why Parros should get another shift tonight.

- Plekanec, who's been massive this period, puts the Habs up 3-0. Briere doing some fine work battling for the puck along the boards. Gonna be hard for Toronto to recover from this far down.

- Briere looking great, Desharnais involved, now if Bourque could dial up his game,we'd really be cookin'.

- Pacioretty!! Bernier with the assist, and Max with his 9th shot of the night, now has three points. And counting.

- Habs letting it get to their heads - take defensive  siesta and Van Riemsdyk with a beauty flip shot that somehow slips through Price. Leafs with a sliver of hope now.

- Woah. Guys. Raymond unprotected, and Price with a bit of a juicy rebound. We've got ourselves a game. 4-2.

- Disappointig end to the period - the Habs really have this game owned, but let the Leafs slip back in. Now they'll have to actually work for it to finish things off in the 3rd. Do'h.

First Period:

- So Therrien goes with Parros, le sigh.

- Habs off to a blistering start, out skating and vastly outshooting the Leafs. But that's standard operation for Toronto isn't it?

- Pacioretty sprung on the break, bangs in his own rebound, and Habs take early lead.

- Habs forecheck creating lots of chance in Toronto's zone.

- Good no-goal call, Van Riemsdyk clearly interfering with Price.

- Pacioretty with six shots (!!!) so far and counting. The Leafs - six shots as well.

- Leafs Franson in the dressing room, apparently injured. That won't help Toronto much.

- Wouldn't be surprised if patches scores 2, 3 or 4 tonight. 

- Habs massively outhustling Leafs right now. Whether they can keep this up for 60 minutes is the big question.

- Subban scores his first in a month, this time not a slapper. Leafs opened the lane for P.K., and Habs take 2-0 lead. Patches the assist as he builds towards a big night on the scoresheet.

- Leafs reeling here, backing into their zone, and Habs are pelting Bernier as a result. Toronto wanting the clock down to zero so they can regroup in the room.

- As noted In our pregame preview the Leafs have been defying gravity this season, Habs returning Toronto further back to a proper orbit. No contest so far.

JUST SAY NO MICHEL. Orr won't get 6 minutes of ice tonight.

Gameday Game Preview:

Ah, Saturday night. The Leafs against the Habs. The one classic showdown that rarely disappoints. It's the CLASH OF THE TITANS.

Well, except that it isn't. It's a clash between a pretty decent playoff projected team (Habs) against, and this is not hyperbole, an AWFUL non-playoff team - the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Woah, woah, woah ... you might respond. The Leafs? The 14-9-3 Toronto Maple Leafs??!  Are you on Rob Ford crack? LOOK AT THEIR RECORD YOU IDIOT. THEY'RE HEADED FOR THE PLAYOFFS. THEY'RE A VERY GOOD TEAM. GO BACK TO RUSSIA YOU NINNY.

But, but, but .... I'd protest back, they're almost certainly not headed for the playoffs. Because, this:

- Corsi Differential (all situations): -16.6 (29th, only Buffalo is worse).
- Fenwick Differential (all situations): -12.6 (29th, only Buffalo is worse).
- Shot Differential: -12.6 (29th, only Buffalo is worse).

By the way, the second-to-last-ranking isn't even close to the teams ahead. They're buried in 29th place in these key categories, saved only by the fact that the Sabres might possibly be the worst team the League has seen in its modern history (and yet, somehow, the Leafs couldn't even beat them last night).

There's no logical way the Leafs should be even close to 14 wins when you look at their possession and shooting stats. No. Freaking. Way.

But ... they are. So what the heck is going on? Well, in this writer's opinion four elements have allowed the Leafs to stay somewhat competitive against their opposition. They are (in no real particular order):

1) Goaltending. For the most part, it's been very good. Jonathan Bernier and backup James Reimer have posted very similar numbers, both currently with a .931 SV%, with Bernier a slightly better GAA (2.33 vs. 2.58). Their collective performances have allowed the Leafs the opportunity to win close games against (as we shall see later) mainly less-than-average NHL teams.

2) Specialty Units. The Leafs have a pretty good powerplay, 24.4%, which has been producing goals at maddeningly apt times. Their production, in particular the timing of their production leads us into the next point ...

3) Luck. The Leafs have been incredibly lucky. Their shooting, while awful, is somehow finding the back of the net way more than it should be. Their PDO is 103.9, 3rd in the League. Only Anaheim and Colorado have been more fortunate in getting fortunate bounces. The luck love-in has also played a role in our next big category ...

4) Scheduling: Toronto's schedule has been uncannily *easy* - not only in that they've played against teams that have been struggling to get to the .500 mark, but they have played against teams that were struggling at the time of their games.

To give you some perspective on just how favorable the early season scheduling was, I've put together their win-loss record vs. "competitive" and "non-competitive" opponents. The metric for "competitive" being games against teams who at the time, had more wins than losses:

- Competitive: 2-7-1
- Non-Competitive: 12-2-2

So there you have it. Of the 26 teams they've faced this year, 10 have been against clubs with more wins that losses at the time the games were played, and the Leafs have just 2 wins to show for it. Meanwhile the Leafs have feasted (credit due - you're supposed to win these games) against teams playing under .500.

Luck, however, has this funny way of running out. The Leafs' fortunes, I'm afraid, cannot defy gravity forever - and the schedule, which was very kind through October and November, isn't looking so easy in December. In addition to facing the Habs tonight, the Leafs can look forward to clubs, mainly from the Western Conference, that are either at, or significant above the .500 threshold. The Sharks, Stars, Kings, Blackhawks, Blues, Coyotes from the West, the Bruins, Pens, and Red Wings from the East.

I foresee a very, very difficult month of December for the Leafs, and a resulting tumble down the Eastern Conference standings.

SO TONIGHT. The Leafs take on the Habs, who even with the shootout loss last night, are still playing some pretty decent hockey, and have been since their roster returned to full health. Thomas Plekance, who must NEVER AGAIN participate in a shootout, has been racking up the points. Andrei Markov continues to hold a hot hand, and Habs goaltending, even though Peter Budaj was a bit "meh" last night against the Caps, has been stellar.

The big question tonight is whether Michel Therrien can resist temptation, and NOT insert George Parros into the lineup. In the games which Parros has played, the Habs' record is 0-4-1.  Without him in the lineup, 14-5-2.

Don't do it Michel. Just don't do it.

Puck drops at 7:15 EST.

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