The Leafs have played
41 games OK fine, 42 games this season… (this post is a bit late because every TLN staff member is still hungover from Tuesday) which means we’re at the midway point of the season. That makes a perfect time to evaluate how the Leafs have performed so far this season.
To do that, we compiled some regular stats and some fancy stats, and then sent it away to the newest member of The Leafs Nation family, Justine Collard (who you can follow on the Twitters at @justinetalk) to make the infographic you see above.
We graded the Leafs in three fairly obvious categories: Offence, Defence, and Goaltending. Using their league rank in various metrics, we gave them a letter grade for each category. Simple enough, right?
The Leafs were second in goals per game thanks to a torrid shooting percentage at 5-on-5 and a slightly above average powerplay. With that being said, they’re still not generating enough shot attempts, even if they’ve been very good comparatively at generating scoring chances. Their high shooting percentage is likely to regress a bit down towards their normal level which is around 8.5 percent, which is why they’re being given an average grade here.
The star of the class was of course Phil Kessel, on pace for yet another point per game season. There’s been a lot of backlash against Kessel for mostly unwarranted reasons. It’s hard to blame The Phil for his shortcomings considering the pieces surrounding him, it’s not his fault Jonathan Toews isn’t a Leaf. He’s not the greatest player defensively, but he generates a lot of high quality chances, enters the zone better than almost anybody else in the league thanks to his speed and is the reason the Leafs powerplay is so potent.
Uh… does this team even play defence? This team is an utter disaster in their own end. About 55 percent of shot attempts are a scoring chance, the worst mark in the league. It’s dreadful. And the worst part is not just that they’re bad in their own zone, but they’re also hemmed in there more than any other team. Poor possession, poor breakout, poor coverage, poor me having to watch them try to even get the puck across the blueline.
Star of the class? No one gets a star, everyone’s been terrible. Maybe they’ll be better away from Carlyle whose strategy seemed to be “let the other team tire their arms out by flinging as many pucks at our net as possible and then strike back when they least expect it” also known as the Homer Simpson defence.
In any sense, no one deserves credit for being a part of one of the worst defensive teams in the league.
Surprisingly, the Leafs haven’t been their usual world-beater selves in the goaltending department, and that’s what fans should be most optimistic about. The Leafs have one of the best goalie tandems in the league, but this year they’ve been just average as a whole. That’ll likely regress back up. That the Leafs have an above .500 record with average goaltending is actually pretty astonishing.
The star here is Jonathan Bernier. We know Reimer is a good goalie from past experience, but Bernier has been everything he was billed as. He’s been sensational in net and is a top five goalie in the league when considering adjusted save percentage. Not too shabby. In fact, it’s Reimer who’s lowering the team’s save percentage making it look very average.
Before Friday’s game, the Leafs had a record of 21-17-3 and sat 10th in the conference, on pace for just 90 points. Never good enough for the playoffs. Never bad enough for a lottery pick. That’s this team in a nutshell, consistently mediocre. Getting back in the playoff hunt with the way they’ve been playing will be no small task. With the coaching change, it’ll be on Horachek to improve the Leafs play across the board, and with that, they may be able to squeak into the playoffs.
Overall, this team has a lot of work to do. It all starts from the backend which has been just miserable. Better coverage, will lead to more puck control and less turnovers in the defensive zone. Clean exits will lead to a strong transition game and more time in the offensive zone as well as more shots generated. That in turn means less shots given up. It’s all a cycle, and it all starts with fixing the Leafs biggest problem which is in their own zone.