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Maple Leafs 30-game check-up

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It’s not a full physical, just a few quick checks of how the Leafs are doing.

Vancouver Canucks v Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner wants you to know he thinks this game is fun.
Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Mike Babcock’s Six in Five

This is the way Babcock sees things. He looks at five game segments and wants six points in each one. As you can see, the Leafs have managed this twice, hit five three times, and four once. They are fairly consistent, but at a rate just below the goal he set for them.

If we look at that in a rolling average versus last year you can see that the Leafs are about where the team was last year at this time in points. They are not at or over six points in the past five games very often.

That may seem disheartening, but at the midway point last year, they were sniffing a playoff spot, and a reasonable person could expect the players on this year’s Leafs to improve.

Also notable is that the lowest they’ve been is three points, so they have not had any long bad stretches yet.

Shots For and Against

The Leafs sit at 51.25 percent Corsi For after 30 games. They are 12th in the league, and they got to that spot by being first in Corsi For per 60 minutes, and 28th in Corsi Against per 60 minutes. Earlier in the season they were barely getting a 50 percent ratio out of their shots for and against, so the overall proportion has changed, but they are still letting a lot of shots get at or near the net.

Goals and Expected Goals

Using DTM About Heart’s expected goal data, which is at even-strength situations, the Leafs are leading the league in Expected Goals For and are third from the bottom in Expected Goals Against. But the difference is so large, that their percentage of expected goals leads the league at 55.4 percent.

That sounds good, but it’s a knife edge they’re walking where they need to score enough to outpace the chances they give up. Sometimes you don’t. Sometimes your shooting percentage dips, or you just have other sorts of bad luck and you don’t meet expectations. It’s not a guarantee, this kind of measurement, it’s a general idea of how the team is playing.

In reality, Toronto has allowed three goals more than expected and scored nine fewer by the latest data. And that is just even strength. While even-strength or five-on-five measurements are used to predict future success, you still have to play on the penalty kill and the power play in the actual games.

Special Teams

On the power play, Toronto is seventh best right now in Corsi For per 60 minutes. Using the conventional metric, the power play percentage, they are 15th at 18.3 percent. That is a big gap between actual results and the only good predictor of success: a high shot rate.

When you remove the lower-danger shots from the power play picture and just look at Scoring Chances For per 60 minutes, the Leafs are first in the league. So that’s an indication that their power play might be suffering from a luck deficit which may at some point reverse. Their shooting percentage on the power play is 24th in the league right now. When you’re shooting at a high rate, and you’re getting a lot of scoring chances, you are doing your job.

On the penalty kill, however, the picture isn’t as rosy. The Leafs have the sixth worst Corsi Against per 60 minutes. And yet their percentage is 83.2, the tenth best in the league. That is Frederik Andersen, the best penalty killer on the ice at work, and it is also likely some luck and other factors, but they are worse than they appear when you measure by shots.

In terms of Scoring Chances Against per 60 minutes, they are at 17th best in the league, so there is some truth to the idea that the penalty kill units are keeping the shots out of the danger areas. The problem is that those chances can score too, and when you allow too many, you will get burned.

The Leafs are making their penalty killing woes worse by taking a lot of them. They are the eight highest penalized team in minutes per game.

It’s not unreasonable to expect that the power play will simply start scoring just because results vary over time, and they are doing things that lead to success. It is a little difficult to see the penalty kill progress much unless there is a change in tactics or personnel. The easiest way to fix it is to just do it less.

Conclusion

By most measures, the Leafs are a touch better than at the quarter mark of the season.

The goaltending—aside from the backup roulette—is stable.

The overall shots for and against are better, and the Leafs have managed that by slicing a very small amount off the shots against, and somehow upping the shots for.

The expected goals share still looks good.

The team has had no injuries that have caused any major problems. Yet!

The quality of the defensive play looks better and there are not nearly so many undefended cross-crease passes or odd-man rushes.

Barring those crucial injuries, there’s no reason to think the Leafs cannot meet Babcock’s six points in five games success rate for the next 50 games. Six in five is 98 points over a full season. If the Leafs do it for the rest of the season, they are at 92 points, or firmly in the muddy middle of mediocrity in the league. Ninety-two points is on the high end of preseason predictions that were worth paying attention to, and also possibly not enough to make the playoffs.

However, getting points in the NHL today is about luck as well as team quality, and any team that plays a lot of one-goal games like the Leafs seem to is going to spend a lot of time watching the coin flip up and up and up wondering where it’s coming down. Nothing is guaranteed.

Acknowledgements

Stats are from Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Reference and NHL.com unless otherwise specified. All numbers are as of 30 games, or before the most recent loss to the Ducks.