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The Five Game Process: The dip was small and the rebound bigger

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The Leafs have bounced back with a vengeance, and now they just need to keep doing what they do best.

Toronto Maple Leafs v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

I missed the rollover of games 46 through 50 because we were all busy with bye week vacations to tropical destinations (we all went to a luxury resort right?) and then the Jake Muzzin trade got us all in a flurry, so this edition of the five-game process covers 10 games.

The five game sections look like this:

Cast your mind back to the last edition of this look at point progress, and you’ll remember that games 41 - 45 were the only set to fall below six points. Games 46 - 50 were only one point better, but then things really picked up with four wins in the last five games.

As we’ve rolled along, the vibrantly un-smoothed line graph of the previous five games looks like this:

At game 48, the previous five games netted only two points, which is the only time that’s happened all year. That downturn wasn’t typical performance on the season, and yet, comparing it to last year, it was fairly similar to a period of bad results at the same time. This season, the downturn came a little later and lasted a lot less time. This shows that better:

The sag is a lot smaller. And as of now with 71 points in 55 games, the Leafs are at 1.29 points per game, a pace they never returned to last season at all. Early in this season, they’d spent a lot of time around 1.4 points per game, but since the Christmas break, it’s been in the 1.3 range with the exception of that 10-game sag.

We often talk about points in absolute numbers with hard expectations tied to various points amounts. This whole concept of looking at five-game segments comes from Mike Babcock’s idea that six points every five games gets you in the playoffs, and the rest is gravy. But that’s predicated on the idea that the number of points up for grabs is finite and that the cutoff point to make the playoffs is fairly static. Neither of those things is true. And this is important this year because of this:

This is a year-by-year graph of the proportion of games that go to overtime. The more overtime games, the more points are handed out, and the higher a given team’s point total might need to be to make the playoffs or win the Presidents’ Trophy. As you can see, this season is very low and, as of a few weeks ago, hadn’t ticked up any.

This puts a little bit of a wrench in the idea that comparing points year over year is really meaningful. It isn’t particularly, more important is likely the number of and length of the downturns that come along with the upturns.

The team most like the Leafs deep into the season is the Calgary Flames:

Calgary Flames Game Results
hockey-reference.com
Maple Leafs Game Results
hockey-reference.com

The main difference between these two teams is that Calgary gets into overtime more and has three more points from overtime losses. The Leafs are the model franchise for a downturn in three-point games, as they don’t do overtime much. Maybe the fact that the Leafs have been ahead of last year’s points pace all year in a season when that’s harder to do should be taken into account when measuring how much better they look this year.

As of this morning, the Leafs are second in the Atlantic, third in the conference, and sixth in the league in points. In ROW that comes out to second, third and third. By goal differential, the rankings are also second, third and third.

By the way, the defensively suspect Leafs, who might have a bad breakout and play too high risk, have one more goal against than the Tampa Bay Lightning. And the two teams sit fifth and sixth in goals allowed this season.

The Leafs have dropped to fourth in the NHL in Goals For after that lull in results that was driven primarily by a drop in offensive performance and shooting percentage.

Okay, that’s how we got here in this spot where a good finish on the season will lock down second place in the Atlantic, and possibly the Eastern Conference, and maybe the NHL. On to the future:

The next five games

As you know the Leafs are on a road trip, and they’ve split the first two games by winning the one the probabilities said they were meant to lose and losing the one they should have won. I think they played better in the losing contest than the winning one as well, but I’m not sure lessons about how shooting percentage fluctuates on the power play were what was taken away from all of that.

The next five games finish the road trip, and bring the team back to Toronto next week. That’s a lot of hockey in a short span of time.

On Tuesday, tomorrow, the Leafs visit the slumping Colorado Avalanche and then move on to Vegas on Thursday and Arizona on Saturday. They get two whole days off to come back east a little to St. Louis, and then there’s one travel day before a home game on Thursday, February 21 against Washington.

Trying to build on a big rebound in play that saw points in five straight games before the Sunday night loss is tough on the road, and Vegas is going to be a loud, rocking hard-fought game. It’s also on at 11 p.m. Toronto time, so start napping in advance, but try not to miss it.

Every game is winnable for the second best team in the east (sorry New York Islanders, you’re good, but not as good, I don’t care what the points say). It’s possible to come out of this trip with six to eight points, but it won’t be easy. If it was easy, anyone could do it.