It’s that time again to check in on the Leafs and their process of racking up points. They’ve played 30 games now, and have 41 points.
This past segment of five games included the first ever loser point earned on the season, and also the sure signs of total doom for the future, a whole string of losses. Okay, so there were only two losses that came after five wins in a row, but when you’ve won a lot, losing two in a row seems like a tragedy. It helps if you’re a little over-dramatic about things too.
That seems … not very bad. The Leafs remain in second place in the Atlantic to the Lightning, six points behind them, and that seems like a lot. It is a lot for this time of year, and for this season. As of Sunday morning, there is only one gap between teams within a division that’s bigger than that, and that is the drop from the Wild in fifth in the Central with 32 points to the hapless Blues in sixth with only 24. The only top-level gap that’s close is Calgary over San Jose in the Pacific with 40 to 35 points.
However, it might just be possible that the Lightning are the anomaly here, not the Leafs. The Leafs would be in first place in any other division, and they are, therefore second in the entire league to the team that wins games even with an AHL backup in net. In terms of ROW, the Leafs are also in second, one back of the Bolts. They are also in second by goal differential, 11 back of Tampa, and did you know the Tampa Bay No-Goalies have given up more goals than the Leafs? They’ve scored a remarkable 124 to the Leafs 109, however.
Now let’s have a look at the year over year cumulative points:
You can’t make out exact game numbers to points on this one, so I’ll tell you: Last year at this time, the Leafs had 39 points. That difference, one win, moves the cumulative graph from 1.3 points per game to 1.37, which is where the Leafs are now. Only the Lightning with 1.51 (!!!) points per game are at a higher pace so far.
Now, if you look at the darker line of last year, you can see that it runs horizontal for a bit, and this year’s bright cheery blue does the same thing because it’s really pessimistic about the future.
For the extreme pessimists out there, the Leafs would need to lose the next four games to get to the same spot they were in last year at the start of their worst period of play all season.
This is the rolling five-game points to compare how close they are now to last year, and what would need to happen for it to all go horribly wrong.
We can see a few things here. The Leafs have never dipped below four points in any five-game set, while they did last year quite a bit. They’ve hit 10 points in five games twice, and nine once. The rest of the time, they’ve cruised along in the 6 - 8 points range.
On this graph, the game 30 to game 50 bad times last winter don’t look so terrible. They righted that losing streak by game 35, and won some games, but the whole stretch comes in at just over one point per game. That is not good.
It is absolutely possible that the Leafs could do that again and play very poorly for a stretch. There is, however, absolutely no reason to expect it. Yes I know, PDO, blah, blah. Glances at the Bolts. They got better since the last time I looked! Regression, even if you think it’s due, doesn’t keep to a schedule.
The Leafs and the Bolts are one and two in the PDO list too. They do everything together — they even dress alike, people will start to talk. Anyway, the Bolts get there with a bigger shooting percentage, and the Leafs do it with their save percentage. Both teams are very high in their other half of the equation, to be clear, but the difference in how they get to their PDO is interesting to ponder.
I think the Leafs goaltending results are not inflated by luck, or not by much. But at the same time, variance in goalie results is normal, and Andersen may lay a few more eggs. I think the Leafs should be expected to have a high shooting percentage, just like the Bolts, because both teams are overloaded in quality shooters. As high as it is now? Maybe not, but it may or may not cool off.
Regardless, while Tampa has better shot share, the Leafs are still good by this measure, and neither team should be confused with the Anaheim Ducks who are PDOing their way to a playoff spot while producing some on the worst hockey in the NHL. Anyone who says the Leafs are nothing but percentages should be required to watch every Ducks game so far this season to get a little perspective.
John Tavares has some good comments on the big loss to Boston, and he recognizes that they are failing at execution at times.
That’s true, but it’s not true to suggest that the underlying structure is bad.
The Next Five
Enough ranting about that, now it’s time to look at the next five games:
The Leafs go on the road for real again, with none of this handy jaunt back home to water the plants that’s been a feature of a lot of road trips this year. It’s time for the Florida vacation.
The first game is Tuesday in Carolina, where the Leafs will get Corsi’d and garments will be rent. But will the Corsi Kings win it? Could do. Could very well do that. They lose a lot, though. Right now, we don’t know if this will be the revenge of McElhinney or if some other goalie will get the nod.
Game two of this set is a visit to our great and good friends in Tampa. That will be an interesting game. Lucky Thursday the 13th, but lucky for who? The PDO Bolts or the PDO Leafs?
Saturday is game three across the state against the Panthers, and then the Leafs come back north via New Jersey on Tuesday the 18th of December.
Game five of the series is at home to those Panthers on Thursday the 20th. Slipping into the next five games, there are only two other games before Christmas, both at home.
A trip to Florida at a time when the team seems to need some cohesion and chemistry is not terrible. A trip to Florida in December is rarely terrible, let’s be honest. This might be a real roadie, but there is no back-to-backs, the travel is easy, and nice hotels with poolside relaxing will abound.
We’ll get together again after the Panthers visit Toronto to see if the Leafs have bettered last year’s winter performance or if they’ve hit the skids, but I see five winnable games here, but then, every NHL game is always winnable by either team. That’s why we watch ‘em.
Now for all you pessimists — hold your breath and count to 10.