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Friday Check In: How’s that penalty crackdown coming along?

You’ll never believe the answer.

NHL: APR 29 Canucks at Maple Leafs Photo by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last Friday I started looking at Power Play Opportunities league-wide, using the handy data at Hockey Reference.

This is what we should expect to happen to those penalty calls that surge early in the season:

But this year could be different, couldn’t it? The crackdown might keep cracking on. There’s two theories here as to why those calls go down, neither of which we can prove. Either the players re-learn what is a penalty, and respond to new crackdowns and modify their behaviour, or the referees change their behaviour and revert to the “normal” amount of penalty calls in the recent past.

Statistics on penalties are not measures of what players do, they are measures of what the referees do. Knowing why the referees do what they do is one of the deepest mysteries of the game.

Last week I used the league averages from Hockey Reference to show all the historical data compared to this year to October 15. I’ve cut the historical portion down to just since the last lockout, and added the next increment on this year’s data, but remember this is season to date as of October22, so it includes all of the October 15 information.

I’m shocked this went down, aren’t you? No, of course we aren’t. The October 15 information is only 16 games, and the October 22 is 61 games, but in order to get PPO down that rapidly the subsequent 45 games have had a PPO of 3.03. We’re already right in historically normal territory, and there hasn’t even been a coach fired yet, it’s so early in the season.

Goals have declined:

Save percentage has risen:

Of course some of that is natural as players get used to game pace, rookies are sent down and the rosters stabilize. But right now, there is no reason to think the 2021-2022 season will be anything out of the ordinary.

If the league is ordinary, how have the Maple Leafs done?

In their four games so far, the Leafs have eight goals for and seven against, which works out to 2 GF per game and 1.75 GA per game. Both are below the current league average of 2.97.

The Leafs Save Percentage is .938, well above the league average of .913.

The Leafs have had 14 PPO, or 3.5 per game, which is well above the current average of 3.25.

Expect fewer power plays from now on, not more. But on the bright side, it’s very unlikely the Leafs won’t start scoring a lot more goals. If you want to believe that Save Percentage is sustainable, I won’t stop you. Today, Moneypuck is showing Jack Campbell at four goals saved above expected, which is only good for sixth in the NHL, so hot starts are in vogue this year.

Next week, we’ll see if we’ve reached a completely predictable PPO below three and a sadly declining goals number too.