The Toronto Maple Leafs 2010/2011 Season was a wild ride - it was a tale of 2 teams, signs of progress, of individual successes but ultimately team failure. It was a season that involved cognitive dissonance for pessimistic (or realistic?) Leafs fans who looked at the numbers and saw futility - but without our own 1st round pick, there was no benefit to a collapse in the standings. On one hand, it generally forced Leafs fans to be united in their cheering for improbable success, on the other it was frustrating and often felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel.
In case you didn't know, I love charts. They can often compellingly portray a pattern in one little picture much better than a table or long-winded essay. This post doesn't contain any information you probably don't already know, but can maybe be used as a reality check on the Leafs late-season push and what that could mean for next year.
Above we see 10-game moving averages of Leafs Shots For (Blue) and Shots Against (Red), as well as dotted lines representing the average pre- and post-ReimTime. Black dotted line is League average (both For and Against as they must by definition Shots For = Shots Against at the league level).
I'm a big fan of looking at shot patterns - mostly shot quantity rather than shot quality as the data is easier to access. What does the above chart tell us? Pre-Reimer, the Leafs were putting shots on net far below league average, but they were also preventing shots from getting on net. Post-Reimer, Leafs shot at approximately the same rate, but gave up on average 5 more shots per game.
From a shot perspective, Leafs looked like they were getting badly outplayed after Jan 1, 2011. Then why did they have their greatest season success during this period?
Again, we have 10 game Moving Averages for Leafs Shooting% (Blue) and 1-Sv% (Red) so they could both be on the same axis (lower = better Sv%). Pre-Reimer, Leafs were not only getting sub-0.900 goaltending (and trending worse as the games went on), they were shooting at well below league average - for a good 20 game period around game 13, scoring on around 6.5% of shots. Post-Reimer, a miracle happened - goals actually started going in when Leafs shot the puck, at almost a 10% clip and well above league average. And equally amazing, the boys in blue finally started getting respectable goaltending - .914 after Jan 1, with most of that coming from James Reimer (0.921).
The most common worry next year seems to focus around Reimer not being a one-hit wonder - but what should be equally worrying is can the Leafs consistently maintain a team shooting% almost 1% above the league average?
Finally, combining Shots with Shooting% and Save% gives us the actual goals that ended up in the net. Once again, shown above is 10 game Moving Averages for Leafs Goals For (Blue) and Goals Against (Red). Pre-Reimer, Leafs just plain couldn't score and were getting scored on a lot. It was a bad time. A sad time. It ended in Waffles. Post-Reimer, Leafs scored and surprisingly got scored against greater than league average. In fact, they had the exact same GF and GA after Jan 1 (131).
My interpretation is that Post-Reimer, Leafs finally started becoming competitive - but all while riding the percentages. Falling level of shots, increased shots against, getting spectacular goaltending and above-average shooting% all indicate that all else being equal, a fall back to earth is in order.
Ending with a flicker of Optimism
Luckily for us, all else isn't equal. The roster to be iced in October isn't the same one that played the 2010/2011 season.
Player, Coaching & Management changes:
Thanks for the memories: Tomas Kaberle, Kris Versteeg, Francois Beauchemin, John Mitchell, J.S. Giguere, Tim Brent, Frederick Sjostrom, Brett Lebda, Christian Hanson. Coaches: Keith Acton, Tim Hunter.
Welcome to the Blue & White: Tim Connolly, J.M. Liles, Cody Franson, Matthew Lombardi, Phillippe Dupuis, full seasons of Joffrey Lupul, Nazem Kadri, Keith Aulie. Mgmt & Coaches: Rick Dudley, Scott Gordon, Greg Cronin.