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The Five Game Process: Episode Two

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What is the points pace and is it sustainable?

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Toronto Maple Leafs Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Maple Leafs have played 10 games, and it’s time to look at their points pace again. Last time, I couldn’t settle on an actual target beyond believing the old six points in five games number is too low for this team.

The Points Pace

Here are 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4 points per game which is 6, 6.5 and 7 points per five game set. The blue line is the actual Leafs performance after ten games.

The three targets don’t separate very much until after 20 games which is a nice reminder that the points pace in the opening 10 games can be about who you’re playing as much as who you are. It’s also about goaltending fluctuations over small sets of games.

The first two segments of last season had the identical points.

With 14 points in 10 games, the Leafs are dead on 1.4 points per game, which gets you 115 points on a season. Most projections for this NHL season have tighter results in all divisions, and no team with that sort of points total, but you never know what changes a season might bring. Last year, Nashville had 117, the Jets had 114 and Tampa and Boston had 113 and 112 respectively, so you can have two really good teams in the same division and hit those sorts of points totals.

With 10 games played last year, the Leafs had scored 43 goals and given up 36. So far this year they have scored 38 and given up 32. And you say they aren’t better defensively!

How did they get to 14 points?

I’m more curious about the different paths to the same result than looking at the pace, so I looked at Offside Review, which lets me split data into date ranges.

Last year’s opening 10 games yielded these numbers at five-on-five:

  • 28 goals scored, which was six over expectation
  • 26 goals allowed, which was seven over expectation
  • Fenwick Shooting Percentage of 7.95, which was 1.7 percentage points over expectation
  • Fenwick Save Percentage of 92.46, which was 2.1 percentage points under expectation
  • The Leafs were sixth in the NHL in Expected Goals percentage, but were 14th in actual Goals For percentage

They used skill and luck to score enough to help offset their bad defence and sub-standard goaltending at five-on-five and added 11 power play goals, third in the league, to get themselves their 14 points.

Is this year any different? In 10 games so far, the Leafs have done the following at five-on-five:

  • 25 goals scored, which is exactly on expectation
  • 21 goals allowed, which is two under expectation
  • Fenwick Shooting Percentage of 6.63, which is a 0.02 percentage points over expectation
  • Fenwick Save Percentage of 94.68, which is 0.56 over expectation
  • The Leafs are middle of the pack in Expected Goals percentage, but a little better in actual Goals For percentage

Power play goals have been a mere nine so far.

This is a very different route to 14 points. The Leafs are not producing quality shots in quantity as much as they did last year early, nor are they scoring over the expected rate. You should expect the Leafs to be better than average at shooting, so I have to consider this some bad luck. The quality of the defence is same as it ever was, but it’s the actual goaltending that’s been better.

So, to that sustainability question, the real answer might well be that it should at least stay this good as long as the goaltending holds. We should see the Leafs score even more than they have been at five-on-five. The defence is never getting good, but it might get better with time.

The Upcoming Five Games

Saturday is the return game of the Jets home-and-home, but they have to play the Red Wings the night before. I’m not sure how tiring that is, actually, so it might be a very tough game for the Leafs at home.

The Flames drop by on Monday, October 29, followed by Dallas on Thursday. The Leafs take a quick trip to Pittsburgh on Saturday to try beating the Penguins, and then Vegas visits Toronto on the following Tuesday.

This is a nice schedule for rest and travel with a good grind of mostly good teams. The Leafs need to just keep executing their game over and over, and we’ll see how they do at it. The latter half of November is a mess of a schedule with too many games shoved into too few days, so making the first week go well is a really good idea.

Sometime after the Vegas game, we’ll see how the Leafs are doing at maintaining this points pace.