When shots become goals: the story of puck luck
I talk about shooting percentage a lot in these post-game columns, especially this season with the Leafs only shooting 6% as a team at 5v5 coming into this game, compared to the 9% they’ve shot as a team since Auston Matthews came into the league in 2016.
Well, Wednesday night’s 6-2 shellacking featured some well overdue regression.
As usual, Toronto controlled the run of play at even strength. They generated some good looks offensively thanks to some quick puck movement, and unlike usual, the pucks actually went in.
I don’t know if we did anything a whole lot different than we’ve been doing in other games.
– Sheldon Keefe
The Leafs have ranked first in scoring chances and expected goals for a while now, but they weren’t getting any shooting luck. They got some in this game, which sure makes for a fun box score to break down.
Personally, I tend to care way more about who’s dominating the run of play rather than who actually won the hockey game, but hey, it’s all about ****ing wins right?
Jonathan Quick on his good save%, GAA this season:
"Be wary of the guys who really like to talk about those numbers. They usually don't know what they're talking about."
What stat does he care about then?
"Wins. You know, f—k, wins & points."https://t.co/KxpK8LAXdW
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) November 24, 2021
Toronto won tonight, so let’s talk about it. Time for some Leafs Report Cards!
Incomplete: David Kampf (C, #64) — Overshadowing this big win is the impending injury update on David Kampf, who left and did not return after taking a nasty shot to the head on his first shift.
David Kampf is clipped high by Kupari pic.twitter.com/EJ42g1boRW
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) November 25, 2021
It just sucks watching something like this knowing what we know about head trauma. Here’s hoping he makes speedy and full recovery.
As critical as I was about the signing initially, he’s proven to be an extremely effective checking center. His defensive impacts have been fantastic this year despite facing heavier competition than your average third liner, not to mention the value he provides on the PK and defensive zone draws.
This could be a much bigger loss than you think. Kampf has become one of Toronto’s most important players defensively. Let’s hope for the best.
Wayne Simmonds (RW, #24) — With the theme of this article being regression, it was nice to see Wayne Simmonds pick up a few points. They didn’t come in the form of goals (which we’re still waiting on from those cursed shooting-percentage gods), but this assist speaks for itself.
Considering he had zero primary assists last season at 5v5, it’s nice to see him make a skillful play like this off the rush. He’s talked a lot recently about how he improved his skating over the offseason, which you can really see on plays like these. In his last game against LA, he beat Andreas Athanasiou in a puck race at one point.
Simmonds is flying up the ice right now and it’s helped him continue to generate lots of scoring chances. Eventually, those pucks are going to go in for him, which should help give Toronto a bit more of the depth scoring they’ve been missing this season.
Rasmus Sandin (LD, #38) — Watch that clip above again. Sandin is so good at shedding his man without the puck, which leads to odd-man rushes like these. As usual, when the puck ends up on his stick in transition, he completes the next pass, leading to a more dangerous scoring opportunity.
Puck moving is something you can measure, which Shayna Goldman did a phenomenal job of explaining in this article. We know based on the research that completing passes up the ice, through the neutral zone, and into the offensive zone leads to more efficient offense, which makes sense.
Sandin ranks near the top of the league in all those categories. He also leads the league in most 5v5 impact metrics, which might not be taking his usage entirely into account, but the fact that he’s dominating his minutes at such an absurd rate is a pretty good indicator that he’s going to succeed.
Now when have I ever gone wrong making that assessment?
*Stares directly at Travis Dermott*
The reason I have more faith in Sandin is the offensive upside he demonstrates. Dermott was never able to walk the line and quarterback a power play — or even a 5v5 cycle — the way Sandin can. Dermott has never had a three-assist game at the NHL level. Sandin did last night, and it’s because he’s already one of the best passers in hockey.
William Nylander (RW, #88) — It was weird seeing that the Kerfoot-Tavares-Nylander line actually got outshot and out-chanced pretty badly at 5v5. Maybe because the pucks went in tonight we’re all much happier with this trio than we “should” be. It’s obviously not ideal to spend most of your time stuck in the defensive zone, but at some point, scoring is a repeatable skill and we need to acknowledge the players who can actually do it.
Nylander did it last night off of a set play on a right-side OZ faceoff. He backed up well above the top of the circle and let go of a pretty hard one-timer. The xG on that shot usually isn’t very high, but thanks to John Tavares’ deflection, it turned into a super high-percentage shot.
I’d also like to commend Nylander for his effort on the backcheck.
When he’s playing with this level of engagement, he looks like one of the best players in the world. It’s what coaches have been trying to get out of him for years. Should we expect him to do this on every backcheck? Probably not, but man, imagine the player he could be if we saw this type of effort 82 nights a year?
Auston Matthews (C, #34) — I decided to shake things up and try the US broadcast tonight. My favourite moment was when Keith Jones described an “angry rush” from Matthews on an end-to-end play. It was a good way of putting it; Matthews plowed his way through the neutral zone and burned his defender to get himself a great scoring chance.
Speed has been the element of Matthews’ game that looks the most different to me this year, which I’ve brought up a few times with his slimmer build at 205 pounds (down from around 220). It’s helped make him faster, which should make him a more dangerous puck-carrier through the neutral zone. Historically, he’s been a player who defers more of those duties to Marner or Nylander, but as the best player on the ice, I’d like to see him demand the puck and use that speed to force his way into the offensive zone.
6’3 with his hands, release, and now speed? It’s a much scarier proposition off the rush, even if it costs him a few puck battles in the corners.
Now that I’ve given you three paragraphs of waxing poetic, we should probably mention that Matthews scored in tight on a backhand goal and delivered a cross-seam pass to Sandin, who didn’t score on the initial shot, but Bunting did on the rebound. That’s two more points for Matthews, bringing him up to 17 points in 18 games.
Once his 5v5 Sh% kicks back, he should get back up to above a point per game. Dom Luszczyszyn’s projections currently have him at 84 points in 79 games, which sounds about right to me.
Pierre Engvall (LW, #47) — Call me crazy, I still believe in Pierre Engvall. Forget about the tap-in goal off of Simmonds’ great pass. Engvall did an excellent job carrying the puck up the ice from DZ to OZ, which matters. He also used his speed to stay above his man defensively and prevent odd-man rushes.
I know everyone is waiving Engvall in their mock rosters when Ilya Mikheyev returns from injury, but he’s scored at a third-line rate throughout his NHL career. That’s not nothing.
Jack Campbell (G, #36) — It’s nice to get some goal support.
Campbell was solid in this game, stopping everything outside of Sean Durzi wristers, which was to be expected in his NHL debut. Frankly, I’m shocked Trevor Moore didn’t score again, too, just to get in on the meme.
Now, one of those Durzi shots was deflected in front, so Campbell had no chance on it. He did, however, have a chance on the second goal and got beat clean. That’s one he’d like to have back, and it’s why I’m giving him four stars tonight instead of five.
John Tavares (C, #91) — So I’m already going through some cognitive dissonance trying to figure out why I’m giving each of Kerfoot-Tavares-Nylander four stars and the Muzzin-Holl pairing two stars. These five shared the ice quite a bit and got caved in at even strength, so what’s the difference?
The team who scores more wins, and even though I’d like to walk you through this song and dance of “scoring chances are the only thing that matter,” I’m well aware that a having player who can consistently produce at a point per game rate is something that matters.
Tavares did the Points tonight. He scored on a deflection and picked up a primary assist on a wrap-around attempt that ended up on Matthews’ stick. That reminds me — Tavares had another great wrap-around chance on the power play that just missed wide. It was nice seeing them finally get the puck down low to him, which is a look they could probably go to a lot more often when the opposing PK overcommits to Matthews.
Alex Kerfoot (LW, #15) — For a third time, I’ll acknowledge that I’m letting my fellow nerds down by giving each player on the Kerfoot-Tavares-Nylander line a good grade. Evaluating hockey players in single-game samples is weird. Sometimes the shot differential doesn’t tell the whole story after 15 minutes of 5v5 play, but some people will hear that and assume it doesn’t matter after 1000 minutes. They’re wrong in that case; it matters.
Personally, I saw a lot of major positives from Kerfoot in this game. His speed in transition was noticeable, in that he was using it to advance play up the ice with possession instead of chip-and-chasing. I also loved the way he used his speed in puck pursuit, getting right on top of opposing players and forcing turnovers. That was how the Leafs got their odd-man rush on his goal.
We shouldn’t expect Kerfoot to keep producing at the rate he currently is considering how elevated his On Ice Sh% is, but it’s nice to see him transporting the puck more effectively. That type of “process” will help stave off some of the impending regression.
Ondrej Kase (RW, #25) — I loved the way Simmonds put it the morning before the game, encapsulating Kase’s game perfectly.
"He's like a kamikaze fighter out there, man. He does not care." 😂
Wayne Simmonds comments on Ondrej Kase' play. pic.twitter.com/qculAi4uX5
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) November 24, 2021
That reckless abandon is part of what makes him such an effective player. It also helps having Kase’s speed and ability to make plays off the rush, like the saucer pass he made to Alex Kerfoot to open the scoring for Toronto. Those two have looked good in their shifts together, which typically come at 4v5. Maybe they should get a more extended look at 5v5.
I should probably point out that the Ritchie-Kase “pair” got shelled in the shots and scoring chances department, but personally, I didn’t think it was because of Kase’s play. He managed to have a strong individual game in my opinion, and without a memorable “oh no, Kase!” moment, so I think that’s a win.
Jason Spezza (C, #19) — Slot pass? Check. Quarterbacking PP2 to perfection? Check. I’d like to see Spezza wind up in his own zone and transport the puck a bit more at 5v5, but it’s hard to ask for much more than what he’s giving them on a league minimum contract.
We probably don’t say this enough: the Leafs are lucky to have Jason Spezza.
The Rielly-Brodie Pair — One thing that really stood out is how well Toronto’s puck-movers on the back-end transitioned play from DZ to OZ, specifically Morgan Rielly and Rasmus Sandin. Those two are also excellent at completing a pass after a successful zone entry, which is one of the most predictive stats of future offense.
TJ Brodie was steady in his role as the last man back with Rielly always looking to attack. It’s a yin-yang that’s worked really well over the last year.
Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — I didn’t hate Marner’s game tonight as much as some people on the internet, but I also don’t think he took over offensively. He made a few great one-touch passes to get his linemates in open ice, which is always a dangerous proposition when you play alongside Matthews.
Then again, I wonder if we slapped a #88 on the back of his jersey, what would Sheldon Keefe, the Toronto media, and really everyone in the hockey world be saying about his play? My guess is we’d be a lot more critical.
Michael Bunting (LW, #58) — How can you not appreciate his hustle? He looks a lot like rookie Zach Hyman as he goes barreling into every puck battle. He also looks like rookie Zach Hyman when he gets the puck off the rush and fails to make the next pass to his skilled linemates.
I know he scored a rebound goal last night, but I still find myself getting frustrated with the times Bunting gives up possession when there’s a very simple pass to keep play going. He might never develop the ability to complete plays like those the way Hyman did over the past few years. With any $900,000 player, there are going to be flaws, so what you really have to ask of Bunting is to leverage his strengths to make an impact.
He’s been doing that so far this season, and it isn’t with his puck skills. It’s by going hard to the net, winning puck battles, and yes, drawing penalties.
Timothy Liljegren (RD, #37) — The hard part about evaluating Liljegren is that he’s playing with Sandin, who’s the superior puck mover, offensive weapon, and overall player in general. As impressive as his 5v5 shot metrics have been this year, Sandin puts up the same elite numbers alongside Dermott, so it’s clearly not Liljegren who’s the needle-mover.
That said, Liljegren still looks like a legitimate NHL defenseman because of his ability to start a breakout and defend the rush.
The Muzzin-Holl Pairing — Unlike the Kerfoot-Tavares-Nylander trio, these two didn’t generate any meaningful offense for Toronto. As we’ve mentioned, the Muzzin-Holl combo got beat up in the shot and scoring chance department at 5v5. I’m not sure what aspect to pinpoint specifically when we assess “why” their results were so poor tonight.
It felt like a few things going wrong. The puck movement wasn’t great from these two, which is an area where Justin Holl is supposed to help the aging Jake Muzzin. The latter usually makes up for his lack of puck-moving with stellar defensive play, which wasn’t the case tonight.
They didn’t get killed off the rush badly as we’ve seen on some nights, but they also didn’t exactly excel in that area, either.
Nik Ritchie (LW, #20) — I genuinely just feel bad for this guy. As rough as he’s looked for Toronto this year, he’s also pretty snakebitten when it comes to his scoring. Ritchie got robbed again in tight, off of another Spezza cross-seam pass that didn’t result in a goal.
Something’s got to give at some point here. How does Nick Ritchie still have zero goals after 21 games?
Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
The blue blob of death near the crease is what I like to call scoring chances. The Leafs generated 65 percent of them at 5v5 in this game, along with 59 percent of the shots, certainly earning this victory.
Tweets of the Night
Auston Matthews mic'd up for his goal
"I love you Johnny! I love you boys!" pic.twitter.com/evV0baH7NJ
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) November 25, 2021
Now that’s some good wholesome content.
the leafs just trying to practice hockey vs the constant undeniable urge to be hugging jack campbell pic.twitter.com/uyXAtAPHK6
— mitch marney (@marnylandersen) November 24, 2021
Good. Wholesome. Content.
*Lewis Gross don't read this*
Leafs could get a steal if they sign Sandin long-term right now pic.twitter.com/rHbkVKiZ0Q
— Kung Fu Canuck (@kungfu_canuck) November 24, 2021
That’s right, I just followed up two tear-jerking moments of happiness with a RAPM chart. What else did you expect?
Those two blue bars on the left indicate that Sandin has the best offensive impact in the NHL this season at 5v5 this season according to EvolvingHockey.com‘s model. With Muzzin struggling in some of the heavier minutes and Sandin clearly destroying his sheltered minutes, maybe it’s time to balance the competition a bit more?
Okay they need to keep mic'ing Auston Matthews up
His reaction to the Spezza goal was awesome pic.twitter.com/wiFbF4Bors
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) November 25, 2021
Back to the good stuff. It’s nice to see some personality from the best player on a team playing in the biggest market.