Five games of Toronto’s season are in the books, and to our great satisfaction, the Leafs have won four of them. Let’s take a deeper look, in full defiance of sample sizes.
- Our top nine is doing well enough in underlying numbers. As per Corsica’s adjusted CF% at 5v5, all three of our standard combinations—Hyman-Matthews-Nylander, JVR-Bozak-Marner, and Marleau-Komarov-Kadri are clearing 56% of the shot attempts. This is quite good. Further to that, they’re all at least 54% in expected goals at evens. That’s pretty swell.
- Speaking of that, the Matthews line is stomping everything in sight. By expected goals differential—in other words, how many more goals for than against would we expect this line to get, based on how they’ve played—Corsica has them at 3.21. No other line in the NHL is above 2. That’s bonkers. Matthews is also riding a PDO spike, and he’s unlikely to score at his current rate the whole year (which you’ll recall is a goal-per-game, so...not a surprise.) But his line is legitimately generating huge offence.
- Bozak’s line will probably come around a bit. You and I both know that that line is never going to be good in its own end, and we probably just have to accept that as long as they exist. But the Matthews and Kadri lines have a GF% of 100, meaning that when all three of the forwards on each unit have been on together, they haven’t gotten scored on. The Bozak line has gotten outscored 6-3, and not coincidentally, they’ve had a save percentage of .700 behind them in that period. Yes, they have been, are, and will be bad defensively. But they aren’t so bad as to earn a save percentage that terrible. They’ll get back to outscoring their problems soon, or at least canceling them out a bit.
- The top four is working out okay. The Rielly-Hainsey pairing is outshooting its competition by a lot (58.4% adjusted CF), the Gardiner-Zaitsev pair by a little (52.7%), but the G-Z pairing is great in expected goals (66.3%) and the R-H pairing merely good (54.1%). G-Z have gotten easier zone starts, thus far. Without getting too carried away with any specific numbers here—five games, etc. etc.—having our top four solidly above water is an encouraging development. Gardiner had one notably poor game (against the Devils) but has otherwise functioned well enough as a 1D. Again, very early yet, but if this is the Leafs’ biggest weakness, the early signs are we may be able to do well.
- Freddie hasn’t been good. People get weird when you acknowledge this, and immediately jump on the defence instead, and then declare that “he had no chance” on particular goals. This is all true. Andersen is also the second-worst goalie in the NHL in save percentage to have played over 100 minutes this season. Further, he’s the worst in low-danger save percentage (ETA: at 5v5), and it’s not even close. Here are the bottom five:
5. Marc-Andre Fleury - .949
4. Tuukka Rask - .947
3. Semyon Varlamov - .947
2. Ben Bishop - .936
1. Frederik Andersen - .861
The Leafs are bad in their own end. They’re not so bad that their goalie should be giving up vastly more goals on low-danger shots (!) than anyone else. I have great confidence Freddie is going to rebound to his usual form, and I recognize he’s had some great stretches (the first period against Winnipeg and the third against Montreal stand out.) He has, on balance, been pretty bad this year.
- The special teams are okay. That’s on average; the powerplay is absolutely as dynamite as you’d think from watching it, notwithstanding that clown shoes 3-on-5 goal we gave up against New Jersey. The penalty kill looks mediocre, but it’s at least not as awful as in the early going. The samples here are so tiny I’m hesitant to say more, but if things go as they have been, we’re going to do well enough on special teams to be competitive or better.
- By and large, this team looks good under the hood. Again, we haven’t driven the car long enough to say for sure, but the Leafs are a top five team in xGF% and CF%, and in expected goals differential they’re first. They’re actually impressively good at cutting down on shots against, though the shots they do give up are often dangerous. They obviously still do have a huge skew towards offence, and you’re never going to feel safe with them holding a lead. But this is a team that is ready to compete for the division title...and the Cup.