Game #13: Kings @ Leafs, 7:30pm (EST)

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Two teams that are looking to extend their winning streaks will meet in Toronto tonight. The Kings are riding a 4 game streak and will be looking for #5:

Meanwhile, the Leafs are riding high on a 5 game winning streak and have hopes of extending that to 6 games, further distancing themselves from the negativity and turmoil that, if we’re being honest, was created by them in the first place by way of lazy, uninspired play to end their season last year and begin their season this year.

So, with that in mind, they’ll keep riding the hot lineup:

Within that lineup I still see flaws. While I do believe that the play of Sandin and Liljegren is sustainable, as neither are doing anything that I’d consider stellar, instead they are simply playing a simple game, it’s the blueline as a unit that I take issue with. They’re not a sound defensive group, with an emphasis placed on puck movement and mobility, over such traits as crease clearing and raw defense.

That, combined with the fact that far too much of the offensive expectations are being placed on the shoulders of the top 4 forwards, with little to no depth scoring, it appears to be a recipe for disaster. The fact that this team can win as much as they are is a testament to that top 4, but the “bottom 6” is thin and, in my opinion, directionless and roleless.

To elaborate, I only have to use the line of Engvall, Kampf and Kase. While Kampf seems to be a fine player to use in match-up scenarios, I don’t believe Engvall has what it takes to go up against and shut down the best lines in hockey on a regular basis. Maybe when Ilya Mikheyev returns and, I assume, is placed on that line in place of Engvall we’ll see a change in the unit, however, I also don’t think Kase is of any use on a shutdown line, so that may throw a wrench into the gears of that plan. So what are they? A shutdown line with an offensive threat? An offensive line with a defensive centre? I’m unsure, but they look disjointed and out of sync. The 4th line of Ritchie, Spezza and Simmonds does seem to play a lot of their minutes in the offensive zone, so that’s a credit to their group, but they aren’t producing either with a combined 9pts in 12 games (Spezza has 5 of those points). If the idea here is to add a depth scoring line it’s a failure. However, if they simply want a unit that can play a physical game and give the top units a break they have the right people, they just need Nick Ritchie to remember that he’s 230lbs and to start throwing that weight around.

Depth is an issue and it’s easy to see by simply looking at their PPG rates, from top to bottom:

PlayerPPG Rate
John Tavres1
Mitch Marner1
Auston Matthews0.88
William Nylander0.83
Michael Bunting0.5
Alex Kerfoot0.5
Jason Spezza0.42
Wayne Simmonds0.25
Pierre Engvall0.25
Ondrej Kase0.17
David Kampf0.08
Nick Ritchie0.08

With Jason Spezza being the only player in the bottom 6 forward group that is on pace for more than 30pts this year, we can see clearly how the season will go if this trend continues. The wins and losses will come and go as the big 4 forwards do. It’s impossible to expect them to be “on” at all times, so I expect large swings in fan satisfaction.

Enjoy the game.