Overall, I think that the hockey world overestimates the impact of big winning or losing streaks.
Think of it this way: a contending team wins about 60% of its games, and a lottery team wins about 37%. There’s not really a huge deviation from 50-50. If you flip a coin 82 times, even one that’s weighted perfectly, you’ll run into stretches where heads is shown five or six consecutive times. That doesn’t mean that heads “has momentum”, it’s just that streaks are likely to happen in a sport where most short-term outcomes are random.
This might surprise you: at the height of the Pat Quinn era, from 1998 through 2004, the Leafs averaged an 89-point pace in games after wins. They also averaged a 106-point pace in games after losses. Instead of getting on noticeable streaks, what happened was the exact opposite. The team played like a contender in games after losses, and a bubble team after wins.
So while many people are asking questions of a Leafs team that appears to be reeling, demoralized, banged up and all else, I think this is just the natural progression of a hockey team, good or bad. This five-game losing streak shouldn’t change your opinion on the Maple Leafs, nor should it confirm fears. It’s just hockey. And they play again tonight.
|Corsi Close %||51.1% (10th)||42.4% (29th)|
|5v5 GF/60||2.56 (7th)||2.07 (18th)|
|5v5 GA/60||2.36 (21st)||2.02 (10th)|
|PDO||100.5 (10th)||102.4 (2nd)|
|5v4 GF/60||3.84 (28th)||8.64 (3rd)|
|5v4 SF/60||52.1 (18th)||61.3 (4th)|
|4v5 GA/60||7.25 (24th)||6.52 (17th)|
|4v5 SA/60||66.7 (29th)||63.2 (26th)|
|Penalty Differential||+3 (10th)||-22 (30th)|
I think further to the point above, look at how “momentum” has sapped the Dallas Stars. They had lost four games out of five, before going up 3-0 against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago. The Blackhawks, though, fought back and tied the game. Did that demoralize a team already on a losing streak and missing one of their top players? No. They scored again to win 4-3.
Anyway, the way science works means we can’t prove what “momentum” or lack thereof is, but we can prove what it is not (via negativa) and that is determinant of the next game.
As for the Stars, I think the Leafs match up well against them. The concern for me is penalties (the Leafs have slipped to last place in penalty differential) but on the powerplay, the Leafs should have a clear advantage. The powerplay remains the only dominant aspect of the Leafs attack, and Dallas gives up more shots and goals they probably ought to. Their own powerplay has also been kind of tepid, and the Leafs PK needs to get back on track. I won’t classify a “solid outing” as one where they give up zero goals, but I’d like to see them give up fewer than one shot every 120 seconds, against a team like Dallas with a bleak powerplay and missing one of its best forwards*, perhaps.
* – We’ll get to him later. So will ESPN.
MAPLE LEAFS LINEUP
Our pal Hope Smoke commented that just like in the playoffs, injuries (to Tyler Bozak and Colt Knorr) have forced Randy Carlyle to dress the right lineup. Jerred Smithson was waived and will report to the Marlies. Tyler Bozak is donezo for a while. Jerry D’Amigo and Josh Leivo are up. There was no morning skate, but I’d wager the lineup looks something like this:
James van Riemsdyk – Nazem Kadri – Phil Kessel
Mason Raymond – Trevor Smith – David Clarkson
Carter Ashton – Jay McClement – Nik Kulemin
Josh Leivo* – Peter Holland – Jerry D’Amigo
Carl Gunnarsson – Dion Phaneuf
Mark Fraser – Cody Franson (?)
Paul Ranger – Jake Gardiner
Daily Faceoff has Holland on the third and McClement on the fourth, but I don’t think that Randy Carlyle is going to split Kulemin-McClement. Kulemin has played 68% of his season so far with McClement, a not insignificant amount. I think I’d rather Kadri develop something with Clarkson and have Holland on the top line, but whatever. Kadri deserves a shot to prove he can score with the best of them.
At least there’s a fourth line that can play. I like Jerry D’Amigo (or at least the idea of Jerry D’Amigo) and it’s nice that the Leafs are finally giving these depth rotating wingers a shot in place of hired goons. There’s still a chance that Frazer McLaren players in front of Leivo but I really, really hope not. The Leafs have scored too few goals from the depth part of the lineup to worry about fists.
* – If he’s up. Maybe he isn’t up. He probably isn’t. Damn.
Jamie Benn – Cody Eakin – Alex Chiasson
Antoine Roussel – Vernon Fiddler – Ryan Garbutt
Ray Whitney – Dustin Jeffrey – Rich Peverley
Erik Cole – Shawn Horcoff – Valeri Nichushkin
Alex Goligoski – Trevor Daley
Brenden Dillon – Jordie Benn
Sergei Gonchar – Kevin Connauton
Now, I make the above point that the Leafs don’t need a fourth liner who only has fists. Case in point is the Dallas Stars’ hired goon, who is actually more of a throwback to the enforcers in the 1970s that had some offensive talent. People forget that Dave Schultz, John Ferguson and Tiger Williams were all fairly prolific scorers. Williams scored 35 with Vancouver in 1981 while leading the league in penalty minutes.
Anyway, the Stars player is Antoine Roussel. If you are in a hockey pool and don’t know his name, learn it quickly. For his career, Roussel is on a 15-goal, 30-point pace for 82 games, and also 196 penalty minutes. Roussel can also do this.
Meanwhile, the fourth line is some cast-offs. Cole and Horcoff were both dumped by their previous teams for contract reasons, and Valeri Nichushkin is the 10th overall pick from the draft. The question mark up front is Tyler Seguin—he’s been out with a concussion but is a game-time decision tonight. I would hope he doesn’t play, if only because I’m scared to death of concussions.
On defence, the Stars took a huge hit with the loss of Stephane Robidas, a hideously underrated defenceman that eats up tough minutes like Rob Ford eats… well, you know. However they found a diamond in the rough in Brendan Dillon, who was second to Robidas in Extra Skater’s quality of competition metric and one of the top Corsi players on the team.
(and a paragraph as useful as most goalie statistics)
Looks like the Leafs will go with Jonathan Bernier, while the Stars have perpetually chained Kari Lehtonen to the net except in case of injury. One player I didn’t talk about above is Jamie Benn, who may be my favourite player in the whole wide world. A few years ago during my university drinking days, we went to a game to see Kamloops against the Kelowna Rockets, who at that time, had Jamie Benn on their team. A friend ducked downstairs to catch up with a friend on the Rockets after the game so I wound up chatting with Benn, after consuming several, several beers. We got to talking about the World Juniors that year (Benn was on the 2009 team best known for the amazing comeback against Russia and Jordan Eberle’s goal with 5.6 seconds to go) and he admit that he still watched the Eberle goal on Youtube all the time. I think I also got him to admit that Pierre McGuire’s stupid call (“CAN YOU BELIEVE IT” “I can, because…”) ruined the moment. I often wonder why players put up with Pierre. He’s always between the benches, he’s always taking, and one swift ‘accidental’ swing to the jaw with a puck battle near the benches could put him out of commission forever. Heck, you could stage it with a friend on the other team. I know I would.
The Leafs and the Stars get underway at 7:00 Eastern and will be on Leafs TV. Don’t forget to Streakcred.