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Five things to watch when the Calgary Flames play host to the Toronto Maple Leafs:
1) Auston Matthews.
Nobody has scored more 5v5 goals per game than Matthews since entering the league. Nobody has scored 5v5 goals at a more efficient rate than Matthews since entering the league. Nobody has recorded more 5v5 chances per game than Matthews since entering the league. He is essentially unstoppable. If he is healthy enough to play, Calgary best get Mark Giordano and/or Rasmus Andersson out there against him every shift they can. He doesn’t need long to take advantage of a favorable matchup.
2) Goaltending edge.
The Calgary Flames paid a premium to land Jacob Markstrom because they felt he would give them the advantage between the pipes most nights. It’s very early, of course, but that’s been the case so far. Of the 30 goaltenders to appear in at least three games, Markstrom ranks 3rd in save percentage and 4th in SV% vs high-danger shots. He has been excellent and already helped the Flames pick up points they didn’t necessarily deserve. While Frederik Andersen is competent, he ranks middle of the pack in most categories and has been rather hit and miss since the beginning of the 2019-20 season (39/54 in 5v5 SV%). The Flames should have the advantage between the pipes tonight and they just might need it.
3. Stay out of the box.
I know, I know, I harp on this a lot. But it is so important against a team like Toronto. The Maple Leafs are averaging 150(!!!) shot attempts per 60 during 5v4 play. That’s best in the league by a mile. Unsurprisingly, they also rank 1st – again, by a landslide – in chances per 60 and expected goals per 60. They are generating opportunities at an absurd rate right now. The numbers they’re putting up aren’t sustainable but, clearly, they’re not a unit you want to mess around with. Discipline is important in this game as penalties will have a much higher expected cost.
4. Lapping the field.
Matthew Tkachuk has piled up 11 scoring chances at 5v5; nobody else on the roster has more than 5. He is getting to the net consistently – as usual – and Toronto has struggled defending around the paint in the early going. I’ve watched a few Maple Leafs games already and a couple of their top guys, Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie, have been as susceptible as anybody to being beat at the net front. The Leafs just aren’t great at boxing out, or preventing teams from pouncing on 2nd chance opportunities, and it’s not hard to envision Tkachuk taking advantage of that.
5. Exposing Line 4.
Toronto has real depth issues up front. In particular, on the 4th line. They have been trotting out some combination of Alexander Barabanov, Adam Brooks, Jason Spezza, and Wayne Simmonds. It hasn’t worked. All four of them have posted Expected Goal percentages below 35%, and none of them have been on the ice for a single Toronto goal. Calgary is not exactly the model of what quality depth looks like but, at the very least, the Flames should be able to get some good matchups and take advantage of Toronto’s struggling 4th line.
numbers via NaturalStatTrick.com
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