James Mirtle wrote a column on the Leafs’ abnormally high shooting percentage yesterday. Given we’re at the 10 game mark of the season and the Leafs shooting percentage and save percentage are actually up a significant margin from last season, let’s update the numbers for Carlyle’s team if we combine this season so far with last season including playoffs. (The Leafs currently lead the league in team shooting percentage at 12.3%, and are fifth in the league in team save percentage with a 0.930).
36 - 24 - 5
|Average shot margin||-6.2|
|Record when outshot||29 -15 - 5|
|Record when outshooting||7 - 9|
To summarize, because the table text is pretty tiny: Working with a 65-game sample size now, the Leafs have been outshot 49 times, posting a record of 29-15-5. They’re out shot, on average, by a little over 6 shots per game. Their shooting percentage over the 65 games is 11.1% (league average is around 9% over all situations). Their save percentage is 0.9197.
What an interesting team. I don’t blame anybody who looks at recent league history and asks themselves, “for how long can this go on?”
As I see it:
The Leafs are a transitional team that thrives on speed and skill off the rush to generate prime scoring opportunities in little zone time at 5 on 5, sometimes in odd man situations and often times before the opposing defence has been able to organize itself.
I often contrast the Leafs with a team like Boston, who have so few players up and down the lineup who can’t do exactly what the Bruins ask of their players – manage the puck well, forecheck, and cycle the puck. What you get is a level of consistency to the Bruin gameplan that has bred success for the Bs over the past few years. If you watch the fascinating Bruins Behind the Draft video, they still refer to the Kessel trade as a good result for them. They like their system, it’s worked for them, (a Cup and a Cup finals appearance in past 3 years), and they don’t seem too worried about what Kessel is up to in Toronto. Maybe they should, because at one point a member of Bruins management says something to the tune of: “If Seguin plays better we would’ve won the Cup last Spring.”
The Leafs on the other hand are a skating team, don’t have a ton of possession-style forwards, they have a pretty inexperienced blueline but great goaltending, and where the Bruins wear teams down the Leafs thrive on the rope a dope. There are spells when the Leafs look like they don’t belong on the same ice surface as the other team, only for the Leafs to strike quickly and leave opposing defencemen wow’ed by their speed and skill.
“We started collectively turning pucks over, and that’s a fast hockey team,” Anaheim’s Ben Lovejoy said. “We gave them too many easy pucks, easy turnovers, and they were able to hit it back at us with speed. We certainly lost our composure and didn’t play how we wanted to play. That’s one of the fastest teams we’ve played, and they made us pay.”
It’s high time we acknowledge that a team with JvR, Lupul, Kessel and Kadri in their top 6 is a team capable of opening a game up with their speed and skill, generating high quality scoring opportunities, and scoring above the mean. The likes of Raymond and Bolland both add some good depth to the speed and skill on this team in the place of guys like Frattin and MacArthur.
It was a fascinating clash in styles when the two teams met in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals last Spring. While the Leafs were a pretty physical outfit themselves and didn’t back down from the Bruins in this series, they weren’t the better possession team by a long shot and it was the significant speed advantage that put the Leafs within 10 minutes and a historically unprecedented collapse (or comeback, if you prefer) of advancing to round 2. The Leafs scored 12 goals at even strength in the series, many of them on the counterattack and off the rush; Lupul’s goal off a great rush by Frattin; Kessel’s glorious breakaway goal late in Game 2; MacArthur beating Boychuk wide and dancing Rask after picking up a giveaway in the neutral zone; Grabovski flying in off the rush and setting up the JvR spin-and-twist-o-rama; Kadri and Kessel’s 2 on 1 that should’ve sealed the series victory; all of these come to mind.
Sorry for bringing up May 13th. To wrap up, I maintain the hope from the offseason that a lineup with Clarkson and Kulemin playing on two of its top three lines, which we’ve been deprived of due to injury and suspension, can be a team capable of winning in more ways than one. Both wingers are playing their game when they’re first in on the forecheck looking to separate a defender from the puck and initiate a cycle for their linemates. With a stronger forechecking presence and cycling element introduced into this fast and skilled team, the right mix could be lethal. When the Leafs 12+% shooting percentage declines, hopefully it comes alongside more shots and a bump in offensive zone time. My concern is less about whether the Leafs have been lucky in the way they have generated offence, and more to do with them missing a key element or dimension to their game for when they’re presented with different challenges – like if they can compete against the likes of Chicago, or if they can adapt when faced with new approaches to shutting them down throughout the season.
Thursday Morning Links:
- The more we complain, the more the Leafs win. The Lesson is: Don’t stop complaining. “Wahhh wahh Corsi wahh” to you too, Michael Langlois.
- The answer to the question, “who would’ve played net if Bernier got hurt that game Reimer got hurt before the goalie off the street arrived,” is Colton Orr. A former soccer goalie, he’s apparently quite good at punching away soccer balls as well. Carlyle ran another fun practice yesterday after his team ended his former club’s winning streak.
- Frazer McLaren was on Off The Record with his mom yesterday sporting a greasy Joe Dirt mullet.
- This hit was so bad it might take Scott out of the Leafs/Sabres back-to-back meetings in mid November. Might not have happened if the Shanahan suspended the guiltiest party in the Leafs-Sabres line brawl.