The real headline of this article should be: Why am I nodding along to Overdive lately?
They’ve done two shows recently, one a fairly dramatic one that was a long rant that asked the existential question, “Why are the Leafs this bad?” This was after the loss at home to Colorado where no one looked like they were on a contender. They quickly veered off into character questions and some fairly unlikely concepts about the lack of veterans who remember what it’s like to lose all the time, but their passionate rant hit home for me at it’s heart.
Then last night I watched this one:
And I don’t want to find myself nodding along to this kind of analysis, and yet, here I am, writing about it, and this is not because I’m dunking on the Overdrive guys. I think if you’re the sort of person who looks at results and makes a story out of it, that’s a reasonable story to come up with. They quote Sheldon Keefe after the loss to the Flames saying there was only one good line for the Leafs (he means the Tavares line), and I am going to quote me after the first period of that game, when they were tied. I said that John Tavares was carrying the team and Auston Matthews was still in the dressing room.
I amended that after looking at some stats to say that, being fair, Matthews had a lot of empty Corsi (his % was 60 or so at that point) and no shots. So let’s look at shooting, and see if this is a perception issue, a radio hype topic, one or two bad games or a thing.
Auston Matthews is elite at one thing: scoring goals. Sure, he does a lot of things that get him into position to score, and he isn’t the worst forward in the defensive zone ever. He is very good at getting the puck so he can then score goals with it, but his purpose on the ice is to shoot and score.
Shooting, and I mean all shots or Individual Corsi (I used Evolving Hockey’s five-on-five unadjusted throughout), is what he needs to be doing more than anyone else. And he is. He has shot the puck 142 times at five-on-five for the Leafs. The two next closest players have 140 and 139, and we’ll talk about them in a minute. For now, Auston is doing what he needs to be doing.
In the game against the Flames, he shot the puck one time at five-on-five, and that was the game the Overdrive crowd had just watched. Shit happens, and sometimes the game doesn’t give you space to shoot in, and obviously they saw one bad game and extrapolated, and they’re dumb.
Obviously it’s not just the once.
Here’s the long and the short of it. This year, Matthews has 4.3 iCF per game, and nine times so far he’s shot the puck less than three times. Now, granted, he shoots a lot on the power play, but power play minutes are variable, and this is about how he’s playing the bulk of the game, so I’m ignoring that for today. Last year Matthews had 4.7 iCF per game. That’s nearly the same, and the Overdrive guys are dumb.
Well it is and it isn’t. First of all, last year there were 12 games with less than three shots from Matthews, and that’s 18% compared to 27% this year. And when you do this properly and look at his Individual Corsi For per 60 minutes each season, his has dropped from 19 to 16. He’s not even first on the team this year. Ilya Mikheyev is. He’s 33rd in the NHL this year and was 10th last year.
But that’s not the whole story. This year his Corsi For %, which is the best proxy we have for how much of the time you have the puck while on the ice, is 57 and last year it was 53. So, he’s spending more of his time with the puck in Leafs hands, and yet he is shooting it less.
And you’re thinking but Expected Goals, though. If you’ve been following along this season and the Leafs tales of woe, you should be thinking that with dread. Matthews had an Individual Expected Goals per 60 minutes last year of 1.17 and this year it’s 0.76. He was fourth in the NHL last year, and now he’s 108th.
And here’s why:
It’s not dramatically different, it’s just different enough to be the difference between elite and very good.
And I still know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking Mike Babcock, and nerfed offence and now it’s a new world under Sheldon Keefe, and those Overdrive guys are just dumb.
In the last 10 games, Matthews has a shot rate of 18 iCF/60, which is up, and almost to his normal level. And his ixG/60 is 0.79, which is remarkably similar to 0.76. His Corsi For % is 57, and that means he’s got the same zone time as in the early part of the season, a higher shot rate, and virtually the same expected goals rate that puts him as an ordinary top-line forward, not an extraordinary one. He has to actually be shooting worse, and his Expected Shooting % bears that out.
It’s 10 games, and there’s more variance in 10 than in the prior 23, so we are much safer looking at the whole season.
And he really is too often not a factor at all in games off the power play. And now it really shows because before John Tavares was struggling, and now he’s beginning to eclipse Matthews in all categories. Tavares leads the team in the last 10 games. And it’s now clear to any eye-test that Matthews isn’t the backbone of the team. And the temptation to ask, “What’s your excuse now?” is really strong.
If you are the sort of person whose job it is to make up the story about why the eye-test and the numbers come out this way, you could say that sometimes Matthews just takes the night off. I’m not that sort of person, but I’ll tell you, I don’t think it’s an indefensible position.
I don’t think that atypical shot pattern just happens, and I don’t think it’s the bad coaches telling him to do that. But the two players at almost the same number of total iCF this year? Morgan Rielly and Tyson Barrie. And I think that’s part of the explanation.
A few games ago, I was contemplating something a little more in depth on this topic that asked what you do if your best offensive player is your biggest problem. And now I’m saying Auston Matthews isn’t even the best offensive player on the team. Frankly, an argument can be made that he’s not the best one on his line, because the case to lump William Nylander in with Matthews isn’t very strong. The Overdrive guys are a little dumb on that one.
When every point counts, you don’t want to see one of the NHL’s elite shooters not shooting or shooting from way outside his area of maximum effect. So whoever has to step up and do whatever they need to do to fix that, they need to move on that now. Because I’m tired of agreeing with Overdrive.