Preview and GDT: Avalanche at Maple Leafs (7 p.m., TSN)


Team Records: Leafs – 3-0-0 vs. Avalanche – 2-0-0
2012-13 Season Series: Two teams haven’t met since October 17, 2011.
Key Matchup: Patrick Roy vs. ACC stanchions
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Live MLHS Pregame Show:

News and Notes:

Should the Leafs trade Jake Gardiner? James Mirtle and Michael Traikos say the Leafs should hold onto the young defender.

Phil Kessel can’t live without his dog, Stella.

Trevor Smith is making his Leafs debut tonight.

Jay McClement AKA Panty Magnet, may be out of tonight’s game as his wife is in labour.

Speaking of pregnancies, Nick Backstrom just had a kid as well. Patrick Sharp’s wife is expecting too. The lockout ended nine months ago, in case you were wondering.

Pregame Thoughts – Possession, Bernier, and Rielly:

The Leafs first encounter with a Western Conference opponent since 2011-12 comes in the form of an early season battle of two undefeated teams.

Patrick Roy’s Colorado Avalanche present the challenge of a lot of skill and speed up front, much as the Leafs do. One could reasonably foresee this tilt developing into a game of traded chances. Both teams are shooting the lights out (very) early while allowing over 30 shots a game. Varlamov has been up to the challenge for the Avs, as he’s allowed only one goal in each of the two wins.

While there has has been discussion stemming from my post on Sunday morning that advanced statistics are an unnecessary component to MLHS analysis, there is always room for different perspective as I see it. Corsi and Fenwick have their warts, but they have grown beyond guesswork to the point where I feel comfortable using it as a way to dig into the game’s overall flow from a possession perspective. Using Corsi and Fenwick isn’t a criticism against the Leafs on my part, it’s just another tool to see how the Leafs are performing at the possession level – which is an important layer of context and analysis.

The Leafs haven’t even hit their stride yet. The team has been lucky in that Bernier has rose to the occasion to steal two games the team did not deserve to win. When the team does hit their stride, I would venture that we have a lot to be excited about.

Right now, the Leafs are 27th overall in close situations at the possession level. At even strength over 131 minutes through three games, the Leafs have scored 6 goals and given up 5. In close situation with over 94 minutes played, the team is underperforming at 4 goals for, 5 goals against. At some point, the team is going to have to start playing better at the even strength level – special teams are important, but they cannot and should not be the main source of offense or defense.

On that note, the Leafs may be without all of Jay McClement, Mark Fraser and Nikolai Kulemin tonight, and would be wise to avoid the penalty box as much as possible knowing they’re without three of their best PK personnel. McClement was on the ice for over 9 minutes worth of penalty killing in the Flyers game alone.

In net, Jonathan Bernier is starting tonight. He has only 40 minutes played against Colorado in his career, so we don’t have enough of a sample size to guess how he will do. Given how he has played so far this season, we should expect to see him play well again tonight.

Yesterday, we got wind that Morgan Rielly was playing on Dion Phaneuf’s left in practise. Today, it appears that the team will roll out the same pairings from Saturday night. I should point out that Rielly played fantastically after the first period – he made smart passes, good breakouts, and gained the blue line a number of times, creating scoring chances. Tonight will be his second game, so I am hoping the jitters are just about gone for him – he’s got a long way to go to show that he deserves to be in the NHL this year, but I think he’s safe. He’s not going to learn NHL defense at the WHL level; not with the offensive skills that he has.

Projected Lineups:

Maple Leafs Lines vs. Colorado Avalanche

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Colorado Avalanche Lineups, Oct. 8th, 2013
Left WingCenterRight Wing
Left DefenseRight Defense

Colorado Avalanche Lines vs. Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Colorado Avalanche Lineups, Oct. 8th, 2013
Left WingCenterRight Wing
Left DefenseRight Defense