Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time
Location: Air Canada Centre
Broadcast/Streaming: TVAS, SNO, SUN
Opponent SBNation Site: Pension Plan Puppets
How about we just get this out of the way first:
Anyway. We hunted down the brains behind Pension Plan Puppets, @katyaknappe, and asked her a few good questions about the second-place team in the Atlantic.
Raw Charge: In PPP’s Vegas game recap, there were two lines that stuck out to me: "In general, the Leafs D is not good right now." And also, "To my eye, Rielly and Hainsey haven’t been as bad. But it’s been ugly for just about every one of the Leafs defensemen.” Could you elaborate on what's going on with Leafs D?
Katya: I'm not sure that I agree that the Leafs D is not good right now, they never have been particularly excellent. Nikita Zaitsev is hurt, so that's not helping.
Mike Babcock has turned a bug (the Leafs only have three legit top four defenders and one good fake in Ron Hainsey) into a feature: he plays the top two pairs against all the tough competition, in all the tough situations, and lives with the average results being good enough. The third pair is babied like very few other defence pairs in hockey.
For Tampa fans, imagine a world without Victor Hedman, and you'll get the idea.
RC: No thanks. Also in the Vegas game recap, Arvind mentioned that Marner was strong, Matthews' line was great, but the third and fourth lines were invisible. What are your reservations about the forward corps right now?
Katya: I like the forward structure. Spreading the scoring over three lines means that one line gets to feast on bad depth against almost every team they face. The Leafs struggle against teams with strong depth lines that might not score, but defend well, and Vegas is a prime example of that. The drawback is that without N azem Kadri in the lineup, no one is really capable of matching against the top lines of other teams. Matthews tries, but he can't really do the job fully in only his second year in the league. I'll be honest, Tampa's top line scares me with Kadri. Without, it's going to be a difficult game.
RC: Please explain in great detail whatever Auston Matthews' weaknesses are and how to exploit them.
Katya: There is no man in hockey with more disposable income and worse taste in clothes. If you want to get the edge on Auston Matthews, take him shopping. He'll spend a thousand on a sweater you'd think was a good joke buy at the second-hand store. He wears these really weird beige shoes that look like seventies desert boots with his dark suits, and he has a total devotion to jeggings or whatever those stretchy skin-tight jeans are called. Just stand Steven Stamkos next to him in his rattiest old shorts, and you'll have won.
RC: What are the most annoying Leafs Media storylines this season that you wish would go away?
Katya: Who reads Leafs media? Okay, seriously, the dumbest thing is the “today we're trading Mitch Marner, no, William Nylander, no, Mitch Marner” stuff. It's a subset of the stubborn insistence that the Leafs can simply trade for that unicorn stud 1D. I mean, you guys aren't trading Hedman, so why think any other team is going to? The Leafs are not trading either of those wingers, and they are fully committed, for now, to defence by committee.
RC: Who have been your biggest disappointments and biggest positive surprises so far this season?
Katya: The Leafs are doing better than I expected them to at this point in their rebuild. I'm not disappointed in any one player, but I am fed up with Kasperi Kapanen being blocked from the roster by waiver concerns. The very conservative approach to keeping all the depth safely in the press box gets old. But hey, at least our guys aren't suddenly playing for Ottawa!
Ron Hainsey and Andreas Borgman on defence have to be the biggest surprises. Borgy is a total rookie who is great one minute and horrid the next, but he was also grabbed out of a box of free kittens and turned out to be at least a cougar, if not a lion. Hainsey is doing yeoman's work playing top four well, taking huge minutes on the PK, and generally being a great guy while not being Dan Girardi in any way, shape or form.
RC: HEY! ... Anyway, thank you for your time, Katya!
The Leafs have been trending in the wrong direction in both shot share and expected goal share over the last ten games. They haven’t looked like the dominant fast-paced team they seemed to be at times last year and early this year. They’ve also had some unfortunate goaltending results.
Their biggest strength recently looks to be the power play, and the Lightning will want to to avoid taking penalties even more than normal to limit Toronto’s chances with the advantage.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Vladislav Namestnikov — Steven Stamkos — Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat — Brayden Point — Tyler Johnson
Alex Killorn — Yanni Gourde — Cory Conacher
Chris Kunitz — Cedric Paquette — J.T. Brown
Victor Hedman — Jake Dotchin
Mikhail Sergachev — Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn — Dan Girardi
Will Ryan Callahan play? We’ll see.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Zach Hyman - Auston Matthews - William Nylander
Leo Komarov - Patrick Marleau - Connor Brown
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Mitch Marner
Matt Martin - Dominic Moore - Josh Leivo
Morgan Rielly - Ron Hainsey
Jake Gardiner - Martin Marincin
Andreas Borgman - Roman Polak
Will Nazem Kadri play? We’ll see.