Toronto Maple Leafs Preseason 2015-16: Scoring Chances and Zone Starts

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William Nylander Zachary Fucale
Toronto Maple Leafs' William Nylander, right, scores past Montreal Canadiens goalie Zachary Fucale during second period NHL pre-season hockey action in Montreal. PAUL CHIASSON / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Assessing much of anything from preseason games tends to be a mistake, as the wide range of quality in rosters and in amount of playing time mean that, even within a team, comparisons are destined to be unequal.

So, a caveat to everything that follows this: don’t take it too seriously. Despite this, I took a look at the data anyways, because, well, why not?

Some details on scoring chances are here, and on zone entries here and here. My wrap-up column on last year’s Leafs can be found here.


Team Stats

CorsiScoring ChancesZone Entries
CorF%ES CorF%Sc%ESSc%NZ%ContEntOppContEnt
55.8%57.4%56.9%57.7%53.7%41.7%38.2%
Glossary
ES: Even Strength (zone entry data is all ES only)
ESCl: Even Strength Close (defined as tied or within one in the first two periods, and
tied in the third)
CorF%: Percentage of Corsi events recorded by the Leafs
Sc%: Percentage of Scoring chances recorded by the Leafs
NZ%: Percentage of times the Leafs advance the puck into the opponent zone
from the netural zone
ContEnt%: Percentage of Controlled entries (puck carried or passed in)

The Corsi data is complied from the excellent hockeystats.ca. While the Leafs didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard in the exhibition campaign, they did show strong puck possession numbers. The Leafs out-Corsi‘d their opponents in all but one game at even strength, and that number only widened at even strength. Their ES Close number is also solid, so it wasn’t a case of the Leafs being behind and chasing games (although I’m not sure if that’s much of a factor in preseason). One of the big questions of the upcoming season will be whether this improved showing in possession will be maintained once the season gets underway for real.

The Leafs‘ numbers for scoring chances look broadly similar to their Corsi/Fenwick numbers, as they tended to carry play over the course of the preseason.

Having not tracked zone entries before, I’ll just present some short summaries of the data I collected. NZ% is the percentage of times that the puck was directed into the opponent zone by the Leafs when in the neutral zone, and ‘ContEnt’ indicates the percentage of team entries that were controlled, defined as passes or carries.


Defence

Here are the chance and zone entry stats for the eight defencemen who played at least three games in the preseason.

PlayerGPAvESTOIZSESSc%ESClSc%NZ%ContEntOppContEnt
Rielly518:3648%71.4%70.8%50.9%41.8%44.1%
Hunwick417:0246%60.0%57.1%56.9%41.1%26.6%
Polak414:4458%58.1%55.0%51.6%44.8%40.0%
Phaneuf416:4843%57.1%54.3%55.3%38.3%31.2%
Harrington516:0647%56.3%43.5%52.9%38.2%40.5%
Gardiner618:3159%56.0%46.9%51.7%42.4%39.6%
Marincin514:1255%50.0%50.0%53.7%35.3%34.1%
Robidas315:5455%47.2%42.9%49.3%32.4%47.9%
Glossary
AvESTOI: Average Even Strength time on ice
ZS: Zone Start percentage


Morgan Reilly had consistently strong chance numbers, and while he benefited in avoiding some of the Leafs’ weaker games, he also put up strong relative numbers, despite tougher than average zone starts.

Matt Hunwick also ended up with solid numbers, and had one of the lowest zone start numbers on the team.

Jake Gardiner led the team in ES ice time and had favourable zone starts, but his chance numbers lagged behind many of the others, while Dion Phaneuf had the toughest zone starts of any regular defenceman, and looks set for another season of shouldering tough assignments.

Stephane Robidas, now on the IR, was easily the weakest regular Leaf defenceman last year, and that doesn’t look like it’s any better this season. He was the only man on this list to finish below 50% in ES Scoring chances, and his ES Close number was also the lowest.

Martin Marincin, who came in from Edmonton in the offseason, had a mixed camp, with a couple of tough games lowering his overall numbers, but he’s a good example of a player who saw his ice time and role change over the course of his five games.

The pairing of Phaneuf and Hunwick were the top two at winning the neutral zone battle in the preseason, while Hunwick had the lowest percentage of controlled entries against.

Gardiner and Rielly were more likely than the top pairing to enter the opponent’s zone with control, but were also weaker at defending the zone, with Rielly’s numbers the weakest of the trio.

Yet again, we can see bad signs for Stephane Robidas, who was the only regular defenceman to lose the neutral zone battle more than he won it. Nearly 25% of the time, opponents entered the zone with control against Robidas, the worst number on the team.


Forwards

#GPAvESTOIZSES%ESCl%NZ%ContEntOppContEnt
Parenteau410:4530%75.0%100.0%58.4%45.2%34.6%
Spaling411:1130%68.4%83.3%59.8%35.5%45.1%
Matthias512:5637%67.6%57.9%54.6%40.6%38.6%
Brown312:4472%66.7%77.8%47.4%51.6%43.7%
Lupul514:5054%65.0%56.5%52.2%42.5%35.5%
Kadri515:2355%64.4%55.2%53.2%47.2%38.9%
Grabner410:0649%63.6%62.5%56.1%44.9%38.9%
Panik410:5375%62.5%50.0%53.3%42.5%32.8%
Arcobello512:5549%61.8%58.6%57.1%38.9%34.1%
Komarov410:5770%60.0%57.1%52.4%36.9%42.4%
Bozak414:1858%59.4%56.3%51.9%43.8%33.8%
van Riemsdyk514:2361%59.1%53.8%53.8%41.5%37.4%
Nylander412:2675%57.9%50.0%50.0%51.4%45.8%
Winnik311:4054%55.6%53.3%53.8%44.0%41.9%
Boyes513:2657%53.3%39.1%55.2%40.2%37.9%
Kapanen312:2344%52.0%50.0%53.3%36.8%34.0%
Hyman312:3468%40.0%45.5%45.8%27.8%39.1%
Holland512:0866%37.0%37.0%52.5%35.8%46.5%


The most impressive effort came from P.A. Parenteau, who didn’t have high raw chance totals, but was consistently on for more than his line allowed, despite getting the most defensive zone start ratio of any Leaf forward.

Another man who managed strong numbers in difficult zone starts was Nick Spaling.

Shawn Matthias completed a trio of newly arrived veterans who seem like they will be able to fill useful depth forward roles.

Connor Brown, who ended up missing out, also had excellent numbers, but he had much more favourable zone starts. William Nylander was towards the bottom end of the table, despite having the most offensive zone start ratio on the team.

Brad Boyes impressed with his level of play, and earned himself a contract as a PTO. His numbers aren’t great, but that’s down to a poor first game in Ottawa; after that, he was very solid. Of the big four offensive forwards to return, all had solid preseason starts, with Lupul, Kadri, Van Riemsdyk and Bozak all putting up positive numbers.

Without fail, every year when I do these tracking numbers, one name gravitates to the bottom of the regular Leaf forwards. He’s there again in the preseason this year, as Peter Holland had the worst numbers on the team, and by far the worst of anyone remaining on the roster. To be fair, this is mostly – like Boyes – down to a poor first game, but – unlike Boyes – Holland wasn’t able to substantially improve his numbers over the course of the five games he played.

As with the scoring chance numbers, in terms of zone entries, the most successful forwards in the preseason were Parenteau and Spaling, with other NHL veterans battling for spots (Boyes, Grabner, Arcobello) completing the top five. Parenteau’s numbers were particularly impressive, as he had the highest percentage in both offensive and defensive controlled entries as well as the best overall.

Nazem Kadri was the other Leaf with a high percentage of controlled entries while he was on the ice, while Tyler Bozak was the one of the top forwards with a low number of opponents controlled entries.

You can see Peter Holland‘s numbers are poor here as well; while his overall number is around average, he had the worst ratio of controlled entries of any regular. You can also see some of the struggles of the young players here, as the bottom three players were Brown, Nylander and Zach Hyman. None of those players were on the ice for a winning number of neutral zone battles, and while Brown and Nylander had great odds to enter with control, they also allowed a lot of entry against with opponent control.


Wrap Up

So, what’s the takeaway from all this? Well, there shouldn’t really be much of one; after all, it’s just preseason data. But it does give us some players to focus on both from a positive perspective (Parenteau, Spaling, Hunwick) and from a negative one (Robidas, Holland). Are these blips for these players, or will these levels carry on to the upcoming regular season?

The Leafs also put up strong team numbers, even in away games and games with less of their NHL roster. Will that be indicative of a stronger possession approach this year? Well, we’re only a short while from finding out for sure, but hopefully this data gives you some things to keep an eye on.