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Six in Five: Bye week blues

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The Leafs have hit the skids lately. They’re merely five in five in their recent set of games.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Detroit Red Wings't Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images

The Leafs have had some disappointing results in recent games, infuriating even. And while they all get to go somewhere warm, we can stay here in the January cold and look at how it all fits in. First, though, a recap on the concept.

What is six in five, anyway?

It’s Mike Babcock’s method of chopping the season up into chunks that aren’t too large and overwhelming for the players, and setting a benchmark for points he wants to achieve. If you get six in every set of five games, you finish with 98 points and you are very, very likely to be in the playoffs.

It’s also totally the wrong way to look at a hockey season or any other fluctuating set of results. By arbitrarily picking sets of games, you can get the wrong idea about a team just by where a couple of clumped up wins or losses fall as you go along. Nothing about hockey is consistent. Goals go in when they damn well feel like, and wins happen when you play badly, and you lose when you should win. You get streaks. You have injuries, you have a run of easy or hard opponents.

This is six in five, Babcock style:

The Leafs are at 53 points when they should be at 54 to be on the right pace. In the last 25 games, they’ve played at a pace of 5.4 points per five games. As downturns go, this is very mild. If they keep on at their overall pace (they won’t, no one ever does) they’d have 96 points at the end of the season.

But, instead of chopping up the season in five-game sections, we can look at the rolling five game points total. The point of this is not to show where the team is at to number of points, if you want to do that, look at the numbers. Rather, this illustrates the way a hockey season really works. It’s not lockstep consistency of any number of points in a set of games. It’s not performance at the average, it’s all over the place. This chart is messy on purpose.

The blue is this year, the red is last. This is the jittery fluctuation of how points add up over time. It’s not a line graph you can see imaginary trends in, as humans are wont to do.

If you really want to try to see how much better the Leafs are from this than they were last year, look for where the red line rises above the blue. Look at those chunks of area and see how they compare to where the blue rises above the red. There’s only two spots where red wins.

Other things to see is that the blue line never touches zero, but it has dropped to two fairly often. Good teams don’t often lose enough all in a clump to have fewer than two points in their previous five games.

Coming up, as we head to the trade deadline, is the opportunity for the Leafs to really cement their status as an improved team, which I think they are. This is when runs to the playoffs begin, selloffs happen and teams give up, injuries pile up, and it’s very easy to get a dull run of mediocre results, like the Leafs did last year. Like they’ve experienced in the last 20 or so games.

I made the cumulative graph again only with the 6in5 pace as the benchmark to measure against:

To me this looks like a progress bar. By smoothing out the jittery ups and downs of wins and losses into smaller bumps it sure enough looks nicer. But it smooths out the past into something simple that it never was and fails to illuminate the future. If you think blue must cling to red as we carry on, like a snake slithering up a rope, well, no it can go where fortune takes it.

I think the very small gaps and changes in direction are hard to see but I’ll grant you that which side of the line the blue snake is on at the moment says something.

Enough of illuminating the past. It’s done, and all it can do is inform our hopes now.

The Leafs have their bye week right now, and their next game is Tuesday of next week where they host St. Louis. After that, there are two road games in Philadelphia and Ottawa (them again) with a day off in between. After another day off, the Avalanche come to Toronto. One more day off gives them time to get ready to go to Chicago and Dallas on the first back-to-back in a while. I cheated, that’s six games. But after that there is another five day break for the all-star game.

Why is everyone’s bye week in January? This is like a KHL schedule. More breaks than games.

This set of six games is a mixed bag of opponents, but there are some very top-heavy teams there: Flyers, Avs, Chicago. That’s the kind of team the Leafs can roll out three scoring lines against and do very well. There’s four of those six teams that the Leafs should beat, and on any given night they can beat them all. Eight points out of this set of games would set the team up well for the February blahs, six leaves them right where they are now.

I think it’s unlikely that Nikita Zaitsev shows up for many of these games, if any. One nice thing about the security of the Leafs playoff picture is that no one needs to be rushed back from injury. That means more rotation of the younger defenders, and perhaps some less than consistent results on the ice. Less consistent than it ever is, that is.

Come back at all-star break for a special edition: 7in6, and we’ll see how the Leafs did.