How Toronto Scores.

Get this man on the rush - Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo

We're going to look at how the Toronto Maple Leafs score goals.

Not who scores, or what kinds of shots they took. Instead, we're going to look at how Toronto's goals were generated - what kinds of plays were made and what systems used to help the goals happen.

The idea came from when I was going back over the tapes of Leafs goals this year, looking to see how often a defensive zone break-out led to a goal. [Some of those results were in the previous post.]

But after watching all 55 goals, and taking notes, I was so taken aback by what I saw that I had to go and watch them all again.

And then again. And again.

Why? Well, not to give it all away, but what I saw - while it sortof roughly half-way jived with what I had felt was happening this year - basically took most of the arguments I'd been involved in this year and knocked them out cold.

With facts.

Which is probably the thing I like best about this little project. It's... empirical. Not just turning over or manipulating pre-existing stats. Instead, and by accident, I found myself studying raw goal footage, and having to see it, and think it through, for myself.

And then I thought, well... other people should get to have fun with this stuff as well. So, I put together this little test.

A test of how we, as Leaf fans and hockey analysts, watch the game. If it works, the test should help show us things that, at present, we may only half-realize about the game we watch.

[Final proviso. Obviously, the videos and notes I've used in this test aren't perfect. Sometimes, the tapes don't start the play early enough. And some of my categories aren't mutually exclusive. And my eyes aren't perfect, and I have biases, etc. But you know all that. So. Suggestions on improvements will be gratefully received.]

Now. Is everybody in? No. No. What I mean is...

Is everybody in?

The ceremony is about to begin.


Starter Fact. After 20 games of this, the 2013-14 NHL season, the Toronto Maple Leafs have scored 55 goals [not counting shoot-outs.]

Now, since we want to focus on Even-Strength goals, let's warm-up by guessing how many goals the Leafs have scored in "Non-Even-Strength" play.

If you wish to play, the answers will be provided at the end of each section. If you don't wish to play, you can skip on ahead. Which will, however - and as stated before - basically prove you're no fun and that your genitalia is and are unusually small and that you might just as well end it all and admit to being a Habs fan.

Let's go.

Question #1. How many goals has Toronto scored this year from the following Non-Even-Strength situations:

i) Powerplay Goals
ii) Short-handed Goals
iii) Empty-Net Goals
iv) Goals Scored With Our Goalie Pulled & A 6th Man On The Ice
v) Goals Scored Just As Our PP Ended, But Their Player Is Not Yet Back In The Play.


And please enjoy this quality musical interlude while the votes are being tabulated!

Ready for the answer?

All told, the Leafs have scored a whopping 25 of their 55 goals from Non-Even-Strength situations.

  • 16 Powerplay goals.
  • 4 Short-handed.
  • 3 Empty Net. [Though 1 was also Short-handed, so no double-counting.]
  • 1 with a 6th man on the ice.
  • 2 scored just as our Powerplay ended, but before that player had re-engaged.

This leaves us with just 30 Leaf goals scored during pure Even Strength play, over 20 games.

Now. For the following questions, please think ONLY about the 30 purely "Even-Strength" goals which remain.

Here are 9 well-known plays, situations, systems and strategies from which the Leafs could have scored their goals this year. Any Leafs fan will be able to recount hundreds of instances in which a fan or analyst has suggested/demanded/picketed-the-ACC-demanding that the Leafs do more of X.

Please guess how many of their 30 Even-Strength goals the Leafs have scored in each category. And INCLUDE any rebounds, as they will not be a separate category. [And yes, the categories may overlap a bit. This is, under Not Norm Ull Rules, permitted. Indeed, required.]

#2. "Dump-In Goals." i.e. When we throw the puck into the corner, give up possession, but then forecheck like hell and ultimately retrieve it, and score. ______.

#3. "Cycle Game Goals." i.e. A strongly physical system, where our forwards move the puck back and forth along the boards, using their body to hold off defenders, before getting it out for a shot resulting in a goal. We'll set this bar low, and say a cycle goal only needs to go for 10 seconds to count. ______.

#4. "Goals Off Point Shots." i.e. Goals scored directly [or from rebounds] off shots taken from the standard d-man's point position. Not including when D-men jump into the rush, or move down into the slot from the point. ______.

#5. "Dirty Goals." i.e. Scored by banging and battling in close over pucks in the paint, often involving banging the goalies a bit, getting roughed up,. etc. ______.

#6. "Goals From Throwing The Puck On Net." i.e. All long'ish shots from the perimeter, outside the blueline, throwing the puck at the net from the boards, etc. ______.

#7. "Goals Created By A Defenceman's Pinch." i.e. When we're forechecking and the puck is in the other end and our d-men pinch down along the boards, hitting an opponent, and our forwards pounce, and score. [The kind of play JP pointed out that the Leafs have such a hard time with, when done to them.] ______.

#8. "Goals Off Face-Offs." i.e. Goals scored off a face-off in the other team's end. Within, say, 7 seconds - enough time for a single connected play to occur. ______.

#9. "Goals Off Neutral Zone Turnovers." i.e. When we take the puck from them between the two bluelines and then score with less than 10 seconds in-zone. ______.

#10. "Goals Of The Rush." i.e. Rushes which began back in the Leafs own defensive end, but which moved rapidly up-ice, and scored within 5 to 10 seconds of entering the opposing end. [As always, we're including rebounds here.] ______.


Ready for some answers? Here we go.

2. "Dump-In Goals." The Leafs have had 1. It came when we were 3-0 up against Edmonton. We did, in fact, dump the puck in on this goal. But it wasn't so much a ferocious forecheck that turned it over, but their D-man simply threw a nightmarish pass up the middle, which we intercepted. Puck then went to Rielly, he shot from in close, it hit Kadri's arse or something, and went in. Took about 10-15 seconds in all. But there's only been that 1 goal off the dump-in, in 20 games. Maybe this means we aren't doing enough dump-ins, maybe it means it's a useless technique, I donno. For now, let's just note that we're not getting much from it. VIDDY viddy VIDDY!

3. "Cycle Game Goals." The Leafs have had.... 1. It came when we were up 2-0 up in that same Edm game. The Leafs made 4 or 5 quick slick passes, knocking the puck along the boards to the next player. Now, granted, there was zero bodywork and no physical contact with any Oiler, so like the "dump-in" goal above, it wasn't actually much of a "cycle." But it was the closest we got, and the puck, at least, went cycling around the boards, and we had 10 seconds zone time or so. Which is good. So... I counted it. Interesting that the cycle even ended in a completely non-cyclish way, as it in fact led up to that famous goal from Kessel, where he gets the puck on the goal-line, at an impossible angle, and snipes it. But again, our bottomline has to be that the cycle game... has been utterly irrelevant to any Leafs success.

4. "Goals Off Point Shots." Again, there's 1 here. It's against Columbus, where they've fallen back into a 3rd period shell while protecting a 3-1 lead, Ranger fires from the point, Bolland pots the rebound. You may note that Franson also had a goal off a point shot the other night, which JVR tipped - but to avoid double-counting I'm slotting it in as a "Face-Off" goal. But note that beyond these 2 examples, nothing else has come from our Defencemen taking point shots during even strength play.

5. "Dirty Goals." Only 1 goal here as well. It came against Colorado where we had the puck for 10-15 seconds, which sounds great, but then we lost it, completely. Until... the Colorado D-man who has it throws a complete... Edmonton up the ice. i.e. A brutal pass that Ashton intercepts. Ashton then shoots, and Lupul pushes it in from a scrum. But that's it for our "dirty" goals. WE GOTS VIDDY!

6. "Goals From Just Throwing The Puck On Net." None. Nil. Nada. Closest we have are Lupul's snipe against Boston off the wing and Smith's in Buffalo from the top of the circle, but both guys are quality shooters, and both clearly let these shots go with an edge. So all in all, no long shoot-ins or long-range slappers from the wing for us so far.

7. "Goals From Pinching Defencemen." None again. There's no even-strength goals that I can find in the game film that show a d-man pinching to keep the puck in the zone, then having it lead to anything profitable. Sorry. I really wish I could find a few, because I'm a fan of these plays.

8. "Face-Off Goals." We've got 2 here. Hurrah! The Franson-JVR tip we mentioned, and the other was a Kessel snipe, against Nashville. So, two off the face-off, both really quick strikes.

9. "Goals From Neutral Zone Turnovers." We got 3 here. Dion gloving down a pass against Philly; a Bolland steal against Anaheim; and Clarkson checking Brodie at center-ice - those were our 3 neutral-zone turn-over goals, and all of them were fast, quick hits.

10. "Goals Off The Rush." 21. Considering that we set a very high bar here - that it was only to include goal-scoring rushes that started from the Leafs end, and which had to be quick hitting in the other team's ends, at 5-10 seconds max - what's shocking to me here is that the Leafs still had... 21. That's right kids, twenty-one.

You might want to go back over that, and tote em up again.

My jaw was on the floor. [Edit: Sorry, those were my teeth. Which is sh*t-loads less painful than a jaw. But still embarrassing.]

Anyway, what you can see from the above is that of all the Leaf goals, we have just 4 (four) Even-Strength goals, from: dump-ins, the cycle game, hard-forechecking, going to the dirty areas, just putting shots on net, point shots, punching down, and all that other stuff we hear about endlessly from the experts.

Meanwhile, one single approach, one tactic, one style, one system has generated a whopping 21 goals for us this year. 21 times we have launched rushes from back in our own end, moved the puck up ice at high speed, and then scored, usually in under 5 seconds, but never taking more than 10.

This type of goal has basically been the sole and single Toronto Maple Leaf offensive threat during 5v5 play this season.

If we group our categories a bit more, the picture becomes even starker. Take the 21 goals the Leafs scored off lightning-style rushes from their own end. Now, let's add on the 3 that came from neutral zone intercepts. Which were high-speed "Rush Goals" in every respect except we got the puck further up ice. And then, there were the 2 goals scored off the face-off - again, with the high-speed, lightning attack.

What you now have is a picture showing 26 of the Leafs 30 Even-Strength goals coming off of plays where the team is attacking at light speed, usually not even spending 5 seconds in the opposing team's end.

Here's a compressed version of the spreadsheet, for your perusal. [Click to expand.]


And just 4 goals scored by the Leafs off dump-ins, the cycle, going to the dirty areas and from point shots. Which is an appallingly low total. I would have guessed, even knowing how much of a Rush team the Leafs are, that we'd have 10 or 15, at least.

And worse? When you watch the videos, that one Leafs "Cycle" goal doesn't even involve anyone actually hitting anyone or using their bodies at all. They're actually just passing the puck along the boards. And the single Dump-In goal? Hell, it's actually a lightning-quick interception of a pass that leads to the goal.

If you have to, sit down by yourself - as I did - and walk through the types of plays which the list above shows to have been absolutely USELESS when it comes to actually scoring goals this year. And I repeat, these are not words I wanted to hear myself ever say about a Toronto team. They just happen to be true. But to all intents and porpoises:

  • The Leafs cycle game has failed to create anything. In 20 games.
  • Nor has getting into the dirty areas.
  • Our point shots at Even Strength have been basically worthless.
  • Our d-men have been pinching in vain.
  • Putting pucks on net has simply been a way to hand the puck back to the other team.
  • And dumping the puck in has been ridiculously impotent as an offensive method.

Want to make it worse? [Sure you do. You're Leaf fans.]Ok. Get this.

NONE of those 4 rare, non-lightning-strike goals were in any way relevant to the team winning actual games or getting points in the standings. Two came when we were just piling on to our lead in Edmonton, one was from late in the game during bad loss in Columbus, and the final one was from that Colorado loss.

In sum, the Toronto Maple Leafs, through 20 games, have won every single game and gained every single point they have in the standings off goals scored by their Special Teams, and off of Quick Hit offensive plays.

Let's just face the singular fact. The Leafs are a quick-strike team. Vipers, quick strike artists, predators and poachers. Everything else is just window-dressing. A head fake. Pretence.

Because the way they really score is to see an opening, just a glimpse of an opening, a chance to pounce on that mistake, to get the puck and just one step, hell, one half-step on a defender.

And after that - it's 5 seconds and a puff of smoke. Goal, Toronto Maple Leafs.

No matter if you like physical play (as I do), the Leafs - while laying out some nice hits this year - have plain and simple NOT been a team which creates many goals by using their body in a hard-checking, physical way. Not in scoring, not very often in retrieving the puck following shoot-ins or on rebounds, and rarely even in capturing the puck in the first place back in their own end.

Alright. A few more surprises. Things that, if you were like me [which, if you were lucky, you aren't] you were kindof sortof feeling were maaaaaybe the case. But looked at up close, are kindof mind-blowing.

  • 15 of the 21 "Rush Goals" came from the Top 2 lines (comprising 7 individuals.) Two more came from Dion jumping up. And 4 from the Bottom lines - 2 were by Smith, 1 by Kulie and 1 by Leivo. But get this. Rush goals were the ONLY kind of goals scored by the Bottomline players. A long lead pass to Smith; Leivo on a 2-on-1; Kulie off on a give-and-go; etc. In short, we've all noted for some time that our Bottom lines don't score much. But the surprise is.... when they do, it's off a Rush. i.e Not in the style or manner we expect from Bottom 6 players.
  • Almost no goals at all were scored from more than 30 feet out. Our furthest out shots were basically Kessel's snipe from the goal-line, Lupul's wrister against Boston from the dot, and Smith's nice shot that got deflected against Buffalo, which came from the top of the circle. But that's about it. An incredible 27 of 30 of the Leafs goals here were scored from the crease or the slot or very close range. This is also pretty stunning.

Back to our main story. Here's a pie-chart of how the Leafs score. 51 of 55 goals come from Special Teams and Quick Strikes.


Or maybe you don't like pie.

Ok, sorry, that was just stupid. We all like pie. Only Rob Ford doesn't like pie.

He likes crack.

Now imagine this. If you like to watch the Leafs, and in particular like to watch them score, then you should probably know that, once the Leafs have had the puck in the other team's end for more than about 5 seconds... you might as well TURN YOUR DAMN TV OFF.

Because they're only gonna score, for all the to-and-fro they do, and all the stress and nonsense the announcers make about it, about once every 5 games from all that stuff they do.

Once. Every 5 games.

One more strange way to try to get our heads around this situation.

Remember back when we had guys like Colby Armstrong and Tim Brent playing regular? Like back in 2010-12, under Wilson? Remember that? Well, they scored 8 goals each that year. 16 goals in all. While playing about 65 games each.

Well, if you took our Even Strength goal-scoring trends and ran them out for a full 82 games... that is, if you counted up all the goals we scored off of heavy-lifting physical play and cycling and all the goals off the forecheck and off the dump-ins, and all our long shots from the wing and all those big booming slappers from Dion and all the getting into the goalies' faces and hammering away in the crease after the whistle, then you would find that...


Welcome, to your 2013-14 Toronto Maple Leafs.

I'll leave you with a a few final comments and questions.

1. The 25 Special Teams Goals. Even on the special teams, we see basically the same patterns, the same things working - and not working.

For example, of the 25 goals scored in non-Even-Strength situations, a full 10 have come off the Rush anyway. The 3 short-handed goals and the 3 Empty Netters were pretty obviously going to come off the Rush - but 4 of the PP goals have actually come off the rush as well. Like Kessel circling back into his own end and winding up against Jersey the other night - a PP goal off a Rush.

Once in the zone and having established our PP, another 5 goals have come off of slick, cross-crease, set piece plays. Which is nice, zone time and all, and not off the Rush. But they're certainly not jamming-the-crease or "just putting the puck on net" goals. These are goals off about 5 passes and then Kessel or JVR or Lupul or Kadri shows up on your doorstep with a "thank you very much" smile on his face.

And the remaining 10? Well, 3 come from pure open-ice shots and snipes.... and a final 7 come from tips and rebounds off shots from the D-men. Which is great, that at least on the PP, our D-men are shooting and getting some end-results.
And which is also interesting because it means that, when on the powerplay, either our D-men are better able to get useful shots through; or, our forwards are better able to get positioned so they can make tips or pounce on any rebounds.

So, in sum, even our special teams scoring is heavily-reliant on the Leafs rush game, with support from some strong in-zone passing plays, and improved point-shooting combined with shot-tipping and pouncing on rebounds.

2. A Question. Can you think of any team in recent memory - say, the last 5 or 6 years - that has been nearly so concentrated on just one or two avenues to scoring success?
I can't think of any team that has gotten even close to 93% of its scoring from Quick Hit attacks and Special Teams. And just 7% from all the forechecking and the cycling and the pounding the crease and the point shots. Have there been any teams which were as utterly reliant on some other singular method, such as, perhaps, Boston off the cycle? I can't think of any.

Which would make the Leafs, once again, a team that plays using extreme methods. We've already seen the extreme line-matching, the use of two fighters, the extremely low shot totals form our Bottom lines, the mammoth disparities in the levels of competition and the zone starts doled out by Carlyle. But this is an extreme use of a particular method, not just an extreme use of an individual player. And it's not to achieve a marginal end like fighting, this is how the Leafs score goals.

3. What should the Leafs do, moving forward:

A. Build On Their Strengths. Fact the facts. That the Leafs have an extraordinary group of players with an extraordinary skillset, and that when you have a baseball team of home-run hitters, or a BB team that lives off the fast-break, or a football team that can throw bombs all day long, you might just as well work on enhancing and refining your strengths, and make sure that you have them improved to such a degree that other teams can't adjust and shut you down.

B. Diversify Their Attack. Work to add some new arrows to the quiver, diversify a bit, balance things out a bit. You know, work on developing a cycle-game to try and crank up at least some zone time. Work on making plays off the face-offs more. Work on getting shots through from the point, and having guys hold their ground during 5v5 shots on net, not just during the powerplay. That sort of thing.

C. Break It Up. Recognize that the team is over-built in one direction, over-laden with a particular type of Quick Hit, high-end offensive talent both upfront and at the back, accept that you can't force round pegs into square holes, and that therefore, we probably need to make a trade or two. Say, unloading a Gardiner or a Lupul or a Franson to pick up a different kind of player.

Your call.


Now, obviously, there are some wider implications which flow from this little project.
I just wanted to start by packing the major Leafs-oriented facts and thoughts together into one post.

But looking ahead to the next post, let me just say that this little analysis throws off some fairly hefty - and for me, quite exciting - ideas about how we can improve our statistical methods, and discussions.

All that... coming up!

[So excited.]

[Just peed myself.]

[Thought you needed to know.]

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