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Fun With Numbers

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Ok so as I was perusing various statistical pages last night, I stumbled across some interesting team statistics that have received nary a mention in the mainstream press. Why? you might be asking yourself, would we want to know anything that isn't quoted in the mainstream press?

Well folks, the main reason you might want to know is because the press is fond of spinning things a certain way to convince you a team is or isn't playing well at a certain time of year. This helps fit with narratives that the writers construct as they carry you through the season. They may not even be doing it consciously. I know I do it, I'm aware of the spin I put on things, but I usually own up to it when it's pointed out.

For instance, I'll gladly harp on players I've touted as possible successes whenever they play well during the regular season. Similarly, members of the MSM will often point at poor aspects of the Leafs game, and highlight them as if they mean horrible things for the state of hockey in Toronto. Read on for some examples.

Let's start with the most obvious area of regular concern in the press when it comes to the coaching of Ron Wilson: special teams. Ignoring the fact that Greg Cronin and Scott Gordon are largely responsible for the PK and PP respectively, and that both parts of the Leafs game have improved drastically since the change in Wilson's assistants, there are some curious points to be made.

1. The Leafs PP has shot up the ranks to 2nd in the NHL at 22.1%. They've had 104 opportunities and produced 23 goals. The only team superior to the Leafs is Vancover at 25.9%. More impressive though, is that the Leafs are tied for the 3rd most PP goals with Florida at 23, behind Philadelphia (24) and Vancouver (30), but they've produced those goals in only 159:42 of PP time. If we look at their PPG/60 mins of power play time, they're still 2nd behind Vancouver, producing 8.64 G/60 (Van is at 10.09 G/60).

Now, I'm pretty sure last year the Leafs failures on the PP were widely quoted as a reason why Wilson should be fired... I assume that means this year his success is an excuse to give him a contract extension? Probably not - because that doesn't mesh with the narrative. I'm looking forward to stories about how Philadelphia, Vancouver, and Colorado can't sustain such great PP numbers, and how their coaches don't deserve ANY credit whatsoever for their solid play.

2. The Leafs PK is still pretty bad at 76.6% success. That being said, they're still superior to San Jose (74.3%) and Chicago (75.3%) so they can't be all bad can they? If PK success is a sign of a superior coach, then Todd McClellan and Joel Quenville are obviously incompetent bums... or perhaps it isn't a sign of a hugely superior coach. Either way, I hope you see how THIS part doesn't fit into the narrative. I hope to be reading lots of stories soon about how horrible the coaching of the Sharks and Blackhawks is, and how they are destined to crash and burn because of bad PK units.

3. Toronto has scored first in 15 games this season. Historically the press and telecasters have harped about how the Leafs are a sad sack of slow starting misfits that don't deserve to share the ice with their more lively counterparts around the NHL. That total ranks the Leafs 8th in the NHL (Detroit is tops with 19) and 3rd in the East behind Philadelphia (17) and Pittsburgh (16).

More interestingly, those juggernauts from the West, San Jose, Minnesota, and Chicago? They're the three bottom teams in the NHL, having scored the first goal in only 9 (SJS) and 10 (MIN and CHI) games thus far respectively. Boston similarly has only jumped out to score the first goal on 10 occasions through 26 games, so obviously either they're not as amazing as we're led to believe, or scoring the first goal isn't all its cracked up to be.

Not sure when we'll start to hear about how Boston, Chicago, San Jose, and Minnesota all suck because they don't often score the first goal - maybe in the second half when their numbers either shift, or they start to lose a lot of games as a result of crap play. Minnesota and Boston have already come from behind to win 12 and 9 games respectively, and I sincerely doubt they can keep doing that with regularity all season long.

4. Toronto has the 3rd best winning percentage of NHL clubs leading after 1 period of play at .909 (10-1-0), and they're tied for the best winning percentage of NHL clubs leading after 2 periods at 1.000 (10-0-0). They're holding leads when they close out a period with one... they don't seem to come out flat after a period and surrender points to the opposition when Wilson has the time to get them to regroup and protect what they've earned.

The only teams to close out the first period with a lead more frequently than Toronto so far this year are Detroit (14) and Pittsburgh (13), and neither club has a comparable winning percentage (Det = .786, Pit = .692).

5. Toronto seems to have balanced out their goal production period to period. They have 26 first period goals (tied for 5th best in the NHL), they have 27 second period goals (tied for 7th best in the NHL), and they have 32 third period goals (4th best in the NHL). They don't take a period off, they produce pretty solidly throughout the game offensively. This is yet another sign of solid effort from the team on behalf of their coach.

6. Unfortunately their defensive efforts are also consistently weak. It's hard to get a good read on the Leafs D what with the injury to Reimer, but allowing 24, 30, and 33 goals in the first, second, and third periods respectively is pretty bad across the board. The one solid thing about this though, is the Leafs don't seem to take periods off completely.

Compare those numbers to the likes of Chicago who go from allowing 25 first period goals, to 40 second period goals, and back down to 19 third period goals; or perhaps Detroit, who go from 12 first period goals (stellar), to 24 second period goals (wtf?) and 22 third period goals. Having a stellar period of defense would help the Leafs overall, but realistically they just need to cut down on goals against in every segment of the game.

7. The Leafs goalies are actually good in the shoot out. They have the second best team SV% in the shoot out in the NHL at .800. That may not seem good, but in a league where the median shoot out SV% is .667, then yeah, it's pretty solid.

Ok so, there's some food for thought, feel free to discuss what you think of these types of numbers - some obviously just vary wildly as the year goes on, but others are definitely ignored whenever it suits the people providing the information.

Oh and lastly as a shameless plug - if anyone wants to follow me on twitter they can find me @SteveBurtch