Playoffs Preview: Comparing the Lightning and Leafs Line by Line

Breaking down Round One, line-by-line, pairing-by-pairing

Playoffs Preview: Comparing the Lightning and Leafs Line by Line
Courtesy of the Tampa Bay Lightning via Twitter

This is it, the ultimate team comparison text can provide. We're going to break down and compare the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs line by line based on goal for the forwards, goal rates for the defenders, and as much data as I could find for the goaltenders.

This tells the story of the regular season for both the Bolts and the Leafs. How they are similar and how they are different. And especially how each team produces their offense.

For the Lightning, you will find a lot of their scoring comes from the power play and the top six, whereas the Leafs it comes from the top end and their depth in scoring.

It was also interesting to see how each team organizes their defense. Both teams have a "shutdown" pair that they've put together, as well as an offensive pair. Personally, I don't think the Leafs have set up their best possible lineup, and it'll be interesting to see how long before they go a different way.

I won't spoil the goaltending results, but they will surprise you.

The Lightning's Lines

Brandon Hagel - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Steven Stamkos
Pat Maroon - Nick Paul - Ross Colton
Michael Eyssimont - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Corey Perry

Victor Hedman - Nick Perbix
Mikhail Sergachev - Darren Raddysh
Ian Cole - Erik Cernak

Andrei Vasilevskiy

The Leafs' Lines

Calle Järnkrok - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
John Tavares - Ryan O'Reilly - William Nylander
Michael Bunting - Alex Kerfoot - Noel Acciari
Zach Aston-Reese - David Kämpf - Sam Lafferty

Jake McCabe - TJ Brodie
Morgan Rielly - Luke Schenn
Mark Giordano - Justin Holl

Ilya Samsonov


All the goal counts are pro-rated to 82 games and account for only 5v5. All special teams (5v4, 5v3, 4v4, 3v3, etc) will be added below. I wrote this article on Sunday (April 9th) evening and I'm not going to try and adjust any scoring numbers between that time and the end of the regular season. Some of these numbers might change, but 80 games of data is significant and skipping the final two shouldn't make a noticable difference.

First Line

Hagel-Point-Kucherov vs Järnkrok-Matthews-Marner

Tampa Bay: 17+30+15 = 62 goals
Toronto: 18+28+16 = 62 goals

It's sort of comical that both first lines for these two teams ended with the exact same goal totals. Point is about to have a 50-goal season, and Matthews in a down year is going to hit 40 anyway, but at 5v5 they net out to be identical. You'll notice in the power play numbers than Point matched John Tavares in the leaderboard, while Stamkos and Matthews ended with about the same numbers.

Anyway, the top lines saw each other off, what the difference will be who can actually put the puck in the net and get that shooting percentage advantage.

Advantage: Too close to call

Second Line

Killorn-Cirelli-Stamkos vs Tavares-O'Reilly-Nylander

Tampa Bay: 17+10+17 = 44 goals
Toronto: 17+16+22 = 55 goals

I'm going to say right at the top that Cirelli's number is scaled up like all the others to an 82-game season, as is Ryan O'Reilly. In fact, ROR had the same scoring rate at 5v5 in St. Louis as he is having in Toronto, so I got lucky in having to consider differences.

We always knew this was going to be where the Lightning fell behind the Leafs. Toronto's deadline acquisition has deepened their roster and given them this boost over the Lightning. The next guy up for Toronto is Michael Bunting, who you will see has 15 5v5 goals this year pro-rated. That still puts the advantage in the Leafs favor. I think the biggest outlier here is the talent of William Nylander over Anthony Cirelli, especially offensively. Is Cirelli's defense able to make up for it? Because apart from a favorable on-ice save percentage, he's only slightly above water in goal rates. Nylander has been clearly better than him all things considered.

Advantage: Leafs

Third Line

Maroon-Paul-Colton vs Bunting-Kerfoot-Acciari

Tampa Bay: 5+9+12 = 26 goals
Toronto: 15+6+8 = 29 goals

Again, closer than I would've expected at 5v5, but edge still goes to Toronto. What I find more interesting is the Trade Deadline changes did little to nothing on the goals front with these lines.

For Tampa Bay, they lost Vlad Namestnikov, he would've scored 8 pro-rated goals. That would've been an upgrade on Maroon. However, Jeannot would've been here instead and he has 5 pro-rated goals between Tampa Bay and Nashville.

And on the Toronto side, they adding O'Reilly, pushing Bunting down, and got rid of Pierre Engvall to compensate. Engvall removes any advantage of pushing Bunting down because of his 14 pro-rated goals. If they had found a way to keep Engvall, then the Leafs would have a more significant advantage.

Looking away from goals, I think the Tampa third line is heavier and scrappier, but only slightly because Acciari and Bunting can do it dirty, too. Defensively, I think Kerfoot and Acciari are better than anyone on the Lightning's third line.

Advantage: Slightly Leafs

Fourth Line

Eyssimont-Bellemare-Perry vs Aston-Reese-Kämpf-Lafferty

Tampa Bay: 6+5+6 = 17 goals
Toronto: 11+7+14* = 32 goals

*Lafferty played with Kane in Chicago, so if you ignore that context and just use his Toronto minutes, he has 9 pro-rated goals, for a fourth line total of 27.

Offensively, advantage Leafs again. However, offense from the fourth line matters much less than on other things, so aspects of the game like physicality, low goals against, special teams contributions, etc matter more.

That said, I worry about Perry and Bellemare not having the legs for this series. Maybe their job is to just muck it up, and more likely than not they get Maroon on the fourth line to do just that. Maybe that ability to muck it up will neutralize a better fourth line they intend to go up against, but the advantage other lines have when they play the Leafs fourth line is diminished.

Advantage: Leafs, but the Lightning might not allow these lines to play much hockey anyway.


For the defenders, I'm using different stats to compare them, so I'll just say this here. On goals, the Lightning's top six defenders scored 27 pro-rated goals at 5v5. The Leafs top six scored 21 goals. Advantage: Lightning

The higher scoring from the Lightning's defenders does reduce the pain against the Leafs offense, but I would still take the Leafs forward group than Tampa Bay's after this comparison.

For the comparison here, I'm going to look at the average expected goals production on the ice for both members of each pairing and I'll come up an xGF% for each pair. My numbering should incorporate more minutes and better data than a standard WOWY. Hopefully it tells the picture.

Offense Pair

Sergachev-Raddysh vs Rielly-Schenn

Average xGF/60, Average xGA/60, Combined xGF%
Tampa Bay: 2.85 for, 2.59 against, 52%
Toronto: 2.87 for, 2.71 against, 51%

Oddly enough, if you replace Luke Schenn with Timothy Liljegren, a more offensive defenseman the Leafs will likely start on the bench, their average numbers jump right on par with Sergachev-Raddysh. About 2.9 for, 2.6 again, 53% combined for the Leafs best offensive combination. We'll see how long the Schenn project will run into the playoffs. The Lightning kept him as their seventh defenseman in their playoff runs and are expected to have Zach Bogosian (former Leaf, ironically) in the pressbox. It might be smart to do the same again here, especially on their offensive pair.

Advantage: Lightning

Defense Pair

Cole-Cernak vs McCabe-Brodie

Tampa Bay: 2.74 for, 2.48 against, 53%
Toronto: 2.91 for, 2.32 against, 56%

TJ Brodie is a top-five defensive defender in the league by the numbers, and paired with Morgan Rielly most of this season has among the best shots for numbers in the league as well. Taking his strong results and averaging them with McCabe's strong, but more reasonable results gives a pair that are each 56% in xGF% and are still 56% together. This is a tall task for the Cole-Cernak pair to go up against, but more importantly for the Lightning's top-six to go up against. I give the physical edge to the Lightning, but the edge on ability to defend rushes to the Leafs. Brodie is considered by many as the best rush defender in the league.

Advantage: Leafs, hard to deny.

Two-Way Pair

Hedman-Perbix vs Giordano-Holl

Tampa Bay: 2.88 for, 2.76 against, 51%
Toronto: 2.95 for, 2.41 against, 55%

Both pairs are the secondary offensive pairs that play lots of minutes with the top forwards, as well as the secondary defensive pairs used against top forwards. Hedman has had a down year, but he's also been able to give some of the reins to Mikhail Sergachev, especially offensively. That usage might switch back at some point, and it's always possible Hedman regains his form.

Advantage: Leafs, but biggest opportunity for improvement from the Bolts.

A lot of these comparisons are between Leafs players who are as good now as the Lightning were, while the Lightning players who are still here have underperformed their reputation. You'll see that more starkly on the goaltending front. That said, it is flipped with Matthews vs Point.


Vasilevskiy vs Samsonov

SV%: .916 vs .917
5v5 SV%: .924 vs .925 (adjusted, isolates teams with low or high penalty kill time)
GSAx/60: +0.466 vs +0.462 (goals saved above expected, accounts for defense)*
Shutouts: 4 vs 4

Two Russian goaltenders with identical stats all the way down that have landed them in 7th and 8th in the league in almost all the goalie categories you can find. Call this a bad year for Vasilevskiy and a good year for Samsonov, truth is that this is where both of these goalies are this season. Does Vasilevskiy step up his game? Can Samsonov match? At the moment, all we can say is that it's a true and honest wash. That is the past, the future is uncertain.

*Over the course of the season, both goalies have saved about half a goal more than expected compared to the calculated average goalie from that season.

Aventage: Too close to call, but the reputation pick is Vasilevskiy

Special Teams Production

Power Play

Tampa Bay: 70 goals in 270 opportunities, 0.32 G/2 mins
Toronto: 62 goals in 238 opportunities, 0.33 G/2 mins

The Lightning have more power play goals this season, and in most seasons, because they get more power play opportunities. As is well known in the league, referees rarely give a team more power plays or penalty kills, usually the ratio is 1:1. This is the result of game management on a large scale. Teams that commit more infractions will get more power plays as "compensation" out of thin air, and teams that don't take penalties will get fewer power plays as "compensation" out of thin air. Even when it's not deserved.

Reffing - "Game Management"
by in hockey

The referees are not aware of coaching strategies to take more penalties to help inflate more power play opportunities. The Lightning are using this fact to their advantage and take lots of penalties in order to give their top-notch power play more chances. Edmonton and Carolina both do this, too. Toronto isn't doing this. They are a typical good team who has the puck a lot and shouldn't usually get called to the box, but that just means they get fewer power plays.

Either way, the Lightning know how to take advantage of this.

Advantage: Lightning

Penalty Kill

Tampa Bay: 51 goals in 253 opportunities, 0.25 G/2 mins
Toronto: 44 goals in 236 opportunities, 0.21 G/2 mins

Both teams have good penalty kills. Advantage goes to the Leafs in preventing goals, but only slightly.

Combining PP goals for, PP goals against, PK goals against, and PK goals for, here are the goal differentials for each team. This tells us each team's overall special teams quality.

Tampa Bay: +15
Toronto: +18

Advantage: Leafs, slightly

Other Even Strengths

4v4 and 3v3 goals for and against.

Tampa Bay: -3
Toronto: -8

This is a very small sample of playing time, and 3v3 definitely won't be seen in the playoffs, but it's important to note the Leafs have done pretty poorly in open ice. This could be an advantage in high-penalty games for the Lightning. Again, this game state is not nearly as important as 5v5 time. 5v5 is still 90% of the game.

Advantage: Lightning


Tampa Bay: Tanner Jeannot
Toronto: Matthew Knies

Can Jeannot come back from injury earlier than reported? Will he be able to impact the game if he can? Jeannot will need to make sure he doesn't go over the line if he feels like he needs to compensate for a lack of speed after coming back from injury. Steven Stamkos can be a slapshot on one leg, what can Jeannot be?

The Leafs 6'3" 20-year-old top prospect is a point-per-game captain in the NCAA and has signed an ELC with the Leafs after losing the Frozen Four championship in Amalie Arena over the weekend. Can he be an impact player right away? Who does he push out of the lineup?