It’s been years now since the day Mike Babcock told the press he likes to look at the schedule in five game chunks and that he expects the team to get six points every five games. At that time — the start of the 2016-2017 season — the Leafs were just trying to become a playoff team as their rebuild was taking shape. Now, two years later, the goal can’t be that low (sorry Buffalo).
Last year, the Leafs finished with 105 points, which is 1.28 points per game. Six in five is 1.2. The Presidents’ Trophy went to Nashville with 117 points, and that’s 1.42 points per game. The minimum the Leafs should be achieving on the season has to be 1.3 or 6.5 points per five games. The rate we wish for should be 1.4 or 115 points. That would have won the Atlantic division last year, although interestingly, both Boston and Tampa were over that rate near the end of the year and finished a little weak.
As we all know, the Leafs have had what seems like an unprecedented start to the season, scoring heaps of goals and winning against everyone but the Ottawa Senators (you’re welcome).
While most of this run of wins has been on the road, making it a bit of a surprise, the pace is not unprecedented. The Leafs got eight points in their first stretch of games last year too, which is 1.6 points per game:
The increased power play opportunities at the start of the season helped the team last year as well. The trick to bettering last year’s results and keep this early pace going is to not have the partly-goalie-fuelled drop in games 10 - 15. The lesson from the line graph of each season’s rolling five games is that the results of a hockey season are volatile. You don’t get a nice smoothed line you can apply verbs like “surging” to. The line jitters all the time. The reality lies in the overall average, with very subtle differences between excellent, merely good and not good enough.
It’s all about the process. There will be downturns and runs of bad luck, but the top teams rarely hit the lows of one or two points in five games, and the Leafs did that too often last year. The stretch of mediocrity from games 30 - 50 was also a big problem.
The next five games will be a tougher test for this year’s Leafs. The power plays will start to dry up, the competition is harder, and no one is going to be caught flat-footed by the three headed monster of the Leafs top nine (not that head three has been all that fierce yet).
We begin the quest to better last year’s results in Washington where this opening road trip finally comes to a close on Saturday. The Capitals just got done over big, so they’ll be snarly.
Next, the Los Angeles Kings bring their possession game to town and — wait, what? The Kings have a 40 percent Corsi and the fourth worst shots-against rate in the league? (Washington is fifth worst, by the way.) Early season hockey sure is fun.
The Penguins come to visit next Thursday to make sure we aren’t complacent, followed by Tyler Bozak and the St. Louis Blues on Saturday.
The fifth game of this set is the start of a home-and-home with the Jets. The game on the Wednesday is in Winnipeg, and then the first game of the next set is the Leafs at home to the Jets on HNIC. All the Patrik Laine you can wish for in the space of three days.
These next five games are spaced out well, there is very little travel, the teams are all challenging, and this is where the Leafs prove who they are early this season. So far, their five-on-five offensive pace is a little low as they work in new players, and their shots against pace is dead on where it’s been for years. This puts them smack dab in the middle of the pack in Corsi percentage. The offence at five-on-five must pick up, or they risk becoming a power-play-reliant team, and the last time one of those won the cup was last year so...
On to the next five games. Next time, with enough data for it not to look silly, I’ll pick a rate for the cumulative chart of points and we’ll look at that too.