Randy Carlyle caught game-planning for the Canucks
The Canucks look to build on their road success this afternoon against the middling Toronto Maple Leafs, in a matinee match-up underneath the bright Saturday light of Hockey Night in Canada. It will be the first of three straight games against Eastern Canadian teams on the road. If the Canucks can win tonight’s contest, it will guarantee they leave this road trip having secured at least eight of a possible fourteen points.
That’s what I’d call road success. Maybe I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself, though. There’s still some game to be played here, right? Well, lets see how they stack up on the other end of the jump.
Puck Drop: 4:00 pm PST
Radio: TSN 1040 AM
Courtesy of: www.DailyFaceoff.com
Doing the lineup part of these previews is becoming increasingly boring. The Canucks are rolling and have no real reason to change their lineup, so they don’t. It’s agonizing I tells ya! If there is one unexpected aspect to the Canucks lineup, it might be the starting goaltender. Fresh off a dominating shutout over the Pittsburgh Penguins, it appears as though Eddie Lack will get the start in goal. Perhaps Willie Desjardins is an avid reader of Pass it to Bulis and took Harrison Mooney’s suggestion to start Lack to heart?
It hasn’t been confirmed on DailyFaceoff.com yet, but the NHL.com preview is quite sure of Lack starting. So there is that.
How’s this for a little familiarity? This team is riddled with former Canucks and players of Vancouver lineage. Where to start? I guess there’s no better option than
Canucks Army favourite David Booth. Booth slots in on the fourth line for Toronto. Things haven’t necessarily gone to plan for Booth, who’s already missed considerable time due to injury and will be suiting up in just his fifth game this season.
There’s also Mike Santorelli, he of the half season with Vancouver last year. I was quite the fan of Santo and banged the drum for his return quite mightily – I even suggested he was a better option as the 2C than Nick Bonino. He’s part of a potent second-line in Toronto and has been quite effective for the Leafs. His 2.60/pts60 is third on the team and he’s currently in the midst of a hot-streak, having potted five points in his last five games. Glad to see him catch on, even if it is elsewhere.
Jonathan Bernier, who’s favourite athlete growing up was Nelson Mandela, gets the start in goal.
Before I get into the preview, lets give a hat-tip for Cam Charron. Charron frequently graced this blog with analytics pieces that pushed the bounds and introduced new ideas to all those willing to read. I can genuinely say Charron played a massive role in changing how I watched the game of hockey – yes, we do watch games. He’s a solid fella, who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and drinking with a few times. Seeing Cam enjoy the fruits of his labor with the Maple Leafs has been great.
If you aren’t up to speed, Cam was hired as part of the Toronto Maple Leafs analytic team this summer. No amount of knowledge that Charron imparts will turn this club into a plus-possession team while Randy Carlyle is at the helm, but there has been progress to date. They are only the fifth worst team in Corsi for%! Last season, they finished at the bottom of the league in that regard. Baby steps.
When diagnosing why the Leafs can’t control play for the life of them, the answer seems to start with the coach. Carlyle has a history of playing goons like Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren over vastly more talented players that offer more in the way of tangible skill, and alienating legitimately good supporting hockey players like Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. I can think of no coach in the entire NHL that is more punitive with his puck-moving defenceman than Carlyle. As soon as they exhibit the most base sense of creativity, it’s straight to the bench with them.
It’s off the boards and out with this club, or else. The idea of a controlled zone-entry is foreign. It’s why the Maple Leafs so grossly devalue players like the legitimately talented and effective Cody Franson and handcuff gifted puck-movers like Jake Gardiner. Ever since he’s been in Toronto, Carlyle has decimated the underlying numbers of nearly every player that’s suited up for the Leafs.
And for all of Carlyle’s recognition as a defensive mastermind, it’s worth noting that I can think of few teams in the league with less defensive structure than the Maple Leafs. All summer the discussion around their defensive zone coverage was centered on their swarm mentality. While they’ve supposedly tried to fix this, it remains to be seen whether the message has made it to the players yet.
They play tyke-hockey and essentially chase whoever has the puck. It leads to massive gaps in coverage and a wealth of open ice. Teams like Vancouver, that excel in moving the puck in tight spaces, generally feast on the Leafs.
For Vancouver, that’s where they will need to make hay. The neutral zone is theirs for the taking. What will decide this game Vancouver’s ability to exhibit quick puck movement in Toronto’s zone. As the puck goes, so too do three or four of Toronto’s defenders at a time. Work it down-low and await opportunities in the high-slot. There should be no shortage as the Leafs wingers collapse as the “swarm” system dictates.
I can’t understand why for the life of me, but games between these two clubs are generally quite heated. Maybe the Leafs are a little salty over that whole Mats Sundin thing? Who knows. Whatever the case, it should prove an exciting match between these two clubs who rarely see each other.