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The Five Game Process: Episode Three

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There’s 15 games in the books. We can totally start saying “on pace for” right?

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

lIt’s time again to look at the Leafs points pace. For anyone new, this whole concept began years ago when Mike Babcock explained that he looks at a season in five-game increments. Six points in five games gets you in the playoffs was how he saw it. We’ve grown beyond a pace that lacklustre (1.2 points per game played), and now we expect the Leafs to be in the 1.3 or 1.4 range.

At what point is our sample size of games played big enough to predict the final points standings accurately? Is 15 games enough? The truth is that wins are not a good predictor of future wins, and we’ve known that for so long, the proofs for it are starting to fade off the internet. I assume at some point, someone will have to re-run all the analyses to prove it all over again.

But looking at points, or wins, is good to do every so often because looking at how the team strengths and luck and variance and opposing strength combine into wins and losses is important to tell you what future points pace is possible to achieve not what’s probable.

Games 10 to 15

The Leafs have done the bare minimum to make the playoffs for two segments in a row! Oh, no! But, of course we’re talking about differences of a tenth of a point per game. And they don’t give out part points, so this early in the season, a win or a loss moves the needle a lot.

Overall, at 20 points in 15 games, they are on a 1.33 pace, so that’s fine. The Leafs are second in the Atlantic and third in the NHL right now, with only Nashville between them and the Lightning, who are lighting it up right now.

The cumulative graph looks like this:

I took out the 1.2 points per game benchmark line because it seems unnecessary now. This graph is a lie of course. It looks like an squiggle that barely moves off a straight progression to the ultimate final points amount, which at 1.33 is 109 points.

This is reality:

The number of points as a rolling total of the previous five games shows the real level of variance over a season, and you should never expect too much consistency. So far, versus last year, the Leafs have been ahead almost the entire time and have never dipped below four once things got going. The line trails off, and that’s what a loosing streak gets you. We don’t expect that, but it could happen.

This comparative cumulative graph which I’m experimenting with shows the same sort of thing, with a lot of the chaos smoothed away.

The benchmark here is 1.3 pts per game played, and this is a very good reminder that the big sag away from this points pace last year didn’t happen in “Bad October” but in the darkness of winter when all we talked about was the trade deadline. The scary truth is, we have no idea where that blue line is going to go! And the wins so far don’t tell us.

The Next Five

The Leafs have a packed schedule for the rest of November. The next five games are smashed into eight days beginning this Friday with a home game against the Devils, who are struggling a bit to translate their skill into wins.

Saturday is a road game to Boston, and this weekend should be our next chance to see Garret Sparks.

The following week is the California road trip, so sleep while you can. The Leafs visit Los Angeles and their new coach on Tuesday, San Jose and Erik Karlsson on Thursday, and then they pop back to the LA area for Randy Carlyle’s Ducks on Friday. Not the greatest format for this trip.

This second back-to-back should give Sparks another start right on the heels of his third outing, which I’m expecting will be the Boston game. There’s another back-to-back in late November, so this month is when Sparks decides if he has an NHL job or not. That might not be fair, but that’s how it is for a backup goalie.

This is a mixed bag of games coming up. The California trip is the toughest road trip of the year even if two of the three teams are struggling to play anything like good hockey. And with John Gibson in net, the Ducks can be bad and still win. Every team is in a something to prove mode here, and maybe we’d all be wise to temper our expectations for four road games in a row. The Leafs need to get into grind mode for real now.

About that road trip:

The Marlies are playing in Belleville this weekend which is barely a road trip. Once the Leafs finish up in Boston, they have two days off before they have to be in LA. They will almost certainly add someone to the roster. I know who I’d like that to be (no, not Auston Matthews off of IR), but it may well be Moore right back again.

Sometime after the Anaheim game, I’ll check back to see where the points are after 20 games and how well the Leafs did on the road.