LEAFS POSTGAME – Kessel triplets each score a goal in Leafs 4-2 comeback victory


It’s taken Phil Kessel a little bit to get going this season. He’s been the same guy. He’s taken four shots per game, is by far the most active Maple Leaf in the neutral zone and, despite just two goals on the year coming in Tuesday’s game, had eight points. Six assists, and his 2.01 points per 60 minutes were behind just James van Riemsdyk on the Leafs.

The goals weren’t there. The shots were, and when shots happen, it means goals will come. Kessel wasn’t going to shoot 5.6% for the whole season. Sometimes it takes a little bit of luck to get going, sometimes it takes an insane, blind, whiplike pass from your linemate. Kessel scored a hat-trick in the Leafs 4-2 win Tuesday over Anaheim, and the Leafs came back from an early 2-0 deficit.


Neither team played well in the first period. The Leafs only managed two shots on goal (and one came from well outside the offensive zone), but Anaheim managed just six. The Ducks did convert late in the period off of breakdown by the Leafs’ fourth line that left Morgan Rielly left to cover three Ducks.

The Ducks would also score early in the second off some poor defensive zone play. Everybody just stood around and the Ducks beat everybody to pucks. Mathieu Perreault scored fairly easily from the slot and just like that it was 2-0. The fans were booing and they had every right to. The Ducks were probably lucky to be up 2-0, but the Leafs certainly didn’t show up to play a hockey game.

Commentators often like to look for turning points in games. Hockey… is an easy sport to do this. Two-goal comebacks are less rare than you might expect (as I’m writing this, Edmonton, Florida and Vancouver had all come back from two-goal deficits) because when a team falls behind, the balance of strategies favour the trailing team and they start to play less conservatively. In sports, aggressive play is generally the best play. Geeks that analyze sports have gone to every end to point out that punting the football on fourth and short or sacrifice bunting a runner to second are decisions that in the long run, cost the team. The dump-and-chase in hockey is the analogue to punts and bunts, yet the Leafs have this brilliant strategy when the score is tied to:

  1. Have the defenceman fire a puck across the neutral zone
  2. Have a winger on the far side deflect the puck into the zone

Nobody enters the zone with speed. The Leafs love to give the puck back to the opponent when the score is tied. On rare occasions, they’ll out-hustle the defenders to a loose puck and set up a chance for a shot attempt, but the Leafs don’t nearly recover the puck enough to make dumping it in worth it.

Nothing happened between the Leafs going down 2-0 to pump up the team. They escaped a long 3-on-5 situation by the skin of their teeth, but eventually got it going when they played with more urgency. After (surprise) a failed dump-in attempt by Cody Franson, Kessel decided to it it on his own, foregoing the traditional pass to the blue line and instead gaining the line with a tonne of speed. The Leafs established possession in the Anaheim zone easily, leading to this goal:

The Leafs carried the puck into the Ducks zone just 12 times in the first period, and none of the rushes were real dangerous. Kessel’s rush leading to the first goal was the team’s 8th already in the second period, and David Bolland’s leading up to the Dion Phaneuf goal was the Leafs’ 10th:

Sometimes you just have to play with a little urgency. Kessel’s second and third goals both came off of odd-man rushes, rare breakdowns on a usually stingy Ducks team. James van Riemsdyk could have iced it with a penalty shot late in the third period, but Jonas Hiller stopped him. The Ducks had 13 attempted shots between than and the end of the game (the Leafs had none) but none beat Jonathan Bernier. The Leafs held on.


During the second intermission, a few Leafs writers in the pressbox, evidently without popcorn or donuts to tide them over, started snarking about analytics because that’s the way to respond to something you don’t understand.

The Leafs shooting percentage will regress to the mean this season. It doesn’t mean that will happen all in a game, or that the Leafs will shoot well below 10% for a chunk of games until the percentages decide that they’ve normalized themselves out. It is simply the law of large numbers, and the key in there is “large”. The same people that believed the Leafs shooting percentage was unsustainable last season also believed the Ducks’ goaltending was. Something had to give Tuesday.

When the Leafs win, it isn’t always because they have outwitted the PDO demon once again. In this case, it was because the Ducks and coach Bruce Boudreau had a monk-like commitment to a flawed dump-and-chase strategy, matching the Leafs ineptness in the neutral zone in the first period and generating absolutely nothing of their own.

The Leafs opened the game up in the second and the Ducks didn’t, and they couldn’t generate anything at the end of the game despite Leafs defenders sitting back and giving the Ducks tonnes of space to walk right in.

I mentioned in the game thread that the Ducks are third in the NHL in shots per 60 minutes in 5-on-4 situations, and the Leafs are doing pretty poor in that regard. I did not see anything Tuesday night that showed me that the Ducks shooting percentage on the powerplay is an anomaly, but that’s probably because the Leafs held the Ducks to just two shots in 5:06 of time. I’ve watched every Leafs 4-on-5 situation over the last 24 hours and can confidently say that the Leafs were pressuring the Ducks point-men very well and giving them very little space to move in. The only time Anaheim’s powerplay looked dangerous at all was in the 1:27 of 5-on-3 time that led to… one shot on goal.


Anyone seen Leafs’ Kessel recently?


  • Despite the Leafs getting out-shot 6-2 in the first period, the shots were even at 21-21 at even strength at the conclusion of the game.
  • Bit of a quiet night from Joffrey Lupul, who’s played some of the best hockey of his career recently. He was held without a shot and was particularly quiet in the neutral zone. Be interested to look at his shot differential numbers tomorrow.
  • Best Leafs defenceman was Jake Gardiner. He played 21:31, more than anybody on the Leafs except Dion Phaneuf. I noticed a couple of instances where they were paired together.
  • I worried about the Ducks third line this morning, but they were a non-factor. Saku Koivu, Daniel Winnik and Andrew Cogliano combined for just two shots, and both were beyond 50 feet.
  • Finally, Kessel sent 24 kids and families from Childhood Cancer Canada to a suite at the Air Canada Centre Tuesday. Kessel’s a cancer survivor, and he scored a hat-trick.
  • MaxPower417

    I think you are overstating the “regression” to the mean case for the leafs. Let’s fact check this narrative with some math and statistics.

    The leaf PDO is 1013 which tells us they are 0.81 deviations from the mean (simple z score calculation see snark’s PDO study http://nhlnumbers.com/2013/1/10/studying-luck-other-factors-in-pdo). That is not even 1 sigma standard deviation from the mean. Big regression warning – sorry – not. This is noise.

    But we can do more here. We can calculate the expected points for a given PDO to see how much a team out-performed, or underperformed a given PDO. For example, the leafs given a 1013 PDO have an expected PDO of 12.4 points versus an actual of 14 points (see above entry from snark). So spoiler alert, the leafs have out-performed their expectations by 2 points. That is one game difference. Note the standard error is +-3 points which dwarfs this. Big regression warning – again not.

    Basically all this regression to the mean for the leafs is “noise” and fear mongering at this point. And you might want to focus your wrath on a team like say Avs who are almost 5 standard deviations beyond mean are are more likely for some serious “regression to the mean”

    • MaxPower417

      The Leafs regression isn’t going to come from 5v5 play, it’s going to come from special teams. Namely, the insane PK save percentage and PP success rate.

    • I’m not overstating anything. The Leafs PDO is much closer to the mean than you’d expect for a team with a 7-3 start.

      I also don’t think every Leafs win is some grand victory against Corsi, just as I don’t think every Leafs loss shows us that the Stat Gods demand sacrifice. There are individual aspects of each game that make it interesting.

      The shooting percentage I would expect to decrease, as well as the 4-on-5 save percentage. That paragraph was mostly in response to Kevin McGran’s Twitter feed, as if he’d ever read this post. I doubt he can even boot up his computer in the morning without calling his Grandson for help.

  • STAN

    Keep it comin’ Cam. I’m really starting to warm to your game summaries, writing style and no-holds-barred attitude.

    Gardiner, with the proper coaching, can become an all-star. I’d love to see him jump u[p into the play a bit more, as long as the three forwards are willing to skate hard and bail him out now and then. Same with Rielly, but I think Morgan might be faster than Gardiner.

    No doubt Phil has some of the fastest, surest hands in hockey. He’s usually deadly within 20 feet, and especially with those 5 foot taps-ins.

    Amazing what can happen when you actually gain the zone, find some open ice (Bolland), wait for teammates to gain good shooting spots and fire away.

    Ten games up. 7-3. Now Clarkson gets to show his stuff. I’m skeptical about Clarkson and whether he can make these guys better, but I hope I’m wrong.

  • Bertly83

    We can also expect the leafs 5v5 SV% to positively regress and improve to at least partially offset a regressing SH% if that occurs. That is, unless we believe that a tendency to the mean only applies in negative fashion and does not apply to below average parts of the leaf’s game.

    And it seems from what I read in the comments that even though the leafs may have been lucky on special teams this did not materially help them outperform their 5 on 5 puck luck as shown by PDO. That is, their actual points earned is with in one game of where we would expect them to be.

  • Bertly83

    Phaneuf was the Leafs’ best D last night. Was doing what he should be every night: hitting, blocking shots, scoring a goal (bonus), leading by example. He was key on the 5 on 3 kill and was rewarded later with a goal. Go Leafs Go!