Toronto: a tale of two teams

It’s been a tale of two teams in Toronto this season. On one hand, you have the Leafs who seemed to be legitimate playoff contenders in mid-December, but on the other, you have the team who has fallen off a cliff by the All-Star break. The Leafs have lost their last six games and fans appear to be draft watching at this point, a far cry from where they were just two months ago when they were in the midst of a six game winning streak. 

When things were riding high for the Leafs, they had a stretch between Nov. 20 and Dec. 16 where they went 10-1-1, improving their record from 9-8-2 to 19-9-3. Since Dec. 18, which was the end of their six game winning streak, the Leafs have gone 3-14-0. Over that time, their record has fallen from a very respectable 19-9-3 all the way to 22-23-3. 

So which of these two versions of the Toronto Maple Leafs is legitimate? Are they as good as they seemed to be back in early December when times were good, or are they as bad as they are right now in the thick of their longest losing streak of the season? Let’s break down each streak and see.

As I mentioned earlier, the Leafs are 22-23-3 at the All-Star break, good for sixth in the Atlantic Division, ten points out of a playoff position. They rank in the bottom of the third in most offensive team statistics, except for goals for per 60 minutes, where they rank 13th with 2.33. They’re 29th (ahead of only Buffalo) in Corsi against per 60 minutes with 62.2 and 25th in Corsi for per 60 minutes with 52.0, meaning they’re being heavily out chanced game in game out. This is compounded by the fact they’re 28th in shots against per 60 minutes with 32.8, while they’re 21st with 27.9 shots for per 60 minutes. 

Here’s all that information again, but a little easier to look at:

Note: all info is at 5 on 5

62.2 Corsi against per 60 minutes (29th in the NHL)

52.0 Corsi for per 60 minutes (25th in the NHL)

32.8 Shots against per 60 minutes (28th in the NHL)

27.9 Shots for per 60 minutes (22nd in the NHL)

2.70 Goals against per 60 minutes (27th in the NHL)

2.33 Goals for per 60 minutes (13th in the NHL)

91.81 Save percentage (21st in the NHL)

8.3 Shooting percentage (10th in the NHL)

So how do their season stats compare to their stats over their six game winning streak and their six game losing streak?

The winning streak:

5-2 win over Vancouver: 27 shots for, 44 shots against, 47.0 Corsi for/60, 91.0 Corsi against/60, -22 Scoring chances +/-

4-1 win over Calgary: 27 shots for, 33 shots against, 51.0 Corsi for/60, 77.0 Corsi against/60, -20 Scoring Chances +/-

2-1 win over Detroit: 19 shots for, 42 shots against, 30.5 Corsi for/60, 68.3 Corsi against/60, -28 Scoring Chances +/-

4-1 win over Detroit: 40 shots for, 28 shots against, 72.0 Corsi for/60, 58.0 Corsi against/60, +7 Scoring Chances +/-

4-3 win over Los Angeles: 31 shots for, 36 shots against, 73.8 Corsi for/60, 126.5 Corsi against/60, -10 Scoring Chances +/-

6-2 win over Anaheim: 27 shots for, 42 shots against, 59.0 Corsi against/60, 148.0 Corsi against/60, -15 Scoring Chances +/-

This doesn’t really look like the stats that would come with a winning streak. The Leafs were outshot, out-chanced, and seemingly outplayed in each of the games except for one. Over the six game stretch, they were outshot 171 to 225, which averages out to nine shots per game. The more damming stat is the scoring chance +/-. When you’re outshot, you can somewhat make the argument the chances you allowed may have been a high volume, but a low quality. This clearly isn’t the case as their opponents dominated them in scoring chances in addition to shots. It’s pretty clear the Leafs were carried by strong goaltending in these games, as their goalies put up a combined save percentage of 0.955. To go along with goaltending, they also put up a 14.6 per cent shooting percentage in this six game stretch, which is much better than the 8.3 per cent they’ve put up over the course of the entire season.

The losing streak:

2-0 loss to Los Angeles: 19 shots for, 19 shots against, 47.3 Corsi for/60, 55.0 Corsi against/60, -6 Scoring Chances +/-

4-0 loss to Anaheim: 28 shots for, 24 shots against, 44.0 Corsi for/60, 44.0 Corsi against/60, +4 Scoring Chances +/-

3-1 loss to San Jose: 25 shots for, 41 shots against, 59.7 Corsi for/60, 74.3 Corsi against/60, -6 Scoring Chances +/-

3-0 loss to St. Louis: 27 shots for, 33 shots against, 63.5 Corsi for/60, 64.7 Corsi against/60, -13 Scoring Chances +/-

4-1 loss to Carolina: 35 shots for, 31 shots against, 58.5 Corsi for/60, 47.6 Corsi against/60, +4 Scoring Chances +/-

4-3 loss to Ottawa: 40 shots for, 26 shots against, 62.4 Corsi for/60, 51.4 Corsi against/60, +3 Scoring Chances +/-

This wasn’t what I expected. Over the course of their winning streak, they were heavily outshot and out-chanced, so I imagined their losing streak would have been similar stats to that of their winning streak, minus the strong goaltending. Interestingly enough, the Leafs appear to have played much better hockey throughout their losing streak than they did during their winning streak. 

Of course, these stats are totally up to interpretation, which is what makes them interesting. From an outside perspective like my own, it seems the Leafs are a team who completely live and die with the performance of their goaltender. Digging into that a little more, they’ve only won one game this season when allowing four or more goals, which was a 5-4 win over the Rangers back in November. In games where their goaltender allows two or less goals, they have only three losses, with one coming in overtime. Of their 22 wins this season, just six come when their goaltenders allow at least three goals, giving them a record of 6-21-2 in games of the sort. 

It’s difficult to say which team is a more accurate representation of the Leafs, the losers or the winners because the stats from their losing streak are better than the stats from their winning streak, but the stats from their losing streak come closer to matching their season stats. My opinion is that the team relies very heavily on the performance of their goaltender to win them games. As a result, the team will tend to play terrible games, but still win, but then go on stretches where they play fairly well, but don’t get results. 

Of course, each winning streak is a small sample size, and the stats produced over the course of the season are much better indicators of what the team is all about. 

Thanks to Hockey Reference and War on Ice for excellent stat databases. 

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  • The Leafs must get rid of the fungus. Dion Phaneuf does not show leadership and should be traded, demoted or most of all, stripped of the captaincy. If they don’t feel there is no one else qualified, go with 3 assistants until they obtain someone. He has proven to be the worse Captain in Leaf history.I don’t think firing Randy was the answer. Bringing in Brendan has not improved a thing.

  • Jeremy Ian

    OK: the Leafs are not as good as the winning streak suggests or as bad as this losing streak suggests. So, why the binary question about which is the true Leaf team as one or the other?

    Your data (and thanks for that) shows consistency, dependency on high shooting percentage and decent goaltending for wins. Either of those dry up, and the team flounders.

    It’s a fragile team. Too vulnerable to Kessel or Bernier’s off games. Which happens. Then the failure syndrome set in, and they all slump. Very hard to pull out of something like that, though it will happen eventually. But it also means there’s something fundamentally wrong about the team that both the winning and losing streak mask.

    And this is no surprise. Turns out Shanahan and Nonis were debating whether to fire RC in the middle of the win streak. Why did they wait till the beginning of a tough road trip to pull the trigger? Why did it take the first third of the season for their doubts to mature when all they did to the roster, basically, is tinker with the bottom 6? Why not make the change in the summer or wait till the end of the season if they knew and know the team is defective?

    All they have done is turn a problem into a crisis, make the team look like it’s desperate for a change and thus bargaining from a weak position in a feeding frenzy.

    • Good posting Jeremy. The game plan was to simply buy another year. So let Carlyle have close to half a season and then fire him. In the off seasson ahead they can put the spin machine into over drive. New coach, new assistants, new system blah, blah, blah.

      You are so right they are indeed bargaining from a weak position. Or to put it in poker terms they have an extremely weak hand. Sometimes I don’t know what is more exasperating, watching Kessel float, or Phaneuf being a pylon or Gardiner making three bad plays on one shift or having to read some of the junior, written in crayon postings in here.

      Case in point is that we all know that leaf management had worked out a deal for Josh Gorges with Franson being the trade offer. Gorges being smarter than I thought wanted no part of the insane asylum and vetoed the deal.

      But here we have several posters expecting to receive back for dealing Franson a first line center. The best the leafs dealing from weakness will get for him is a second round pick. Which to some people would be progress as they haven’t had a second round pick for the past two years and don’t have one for the up coming June draft.

      • Jeremy Ian

        Some day we will learn what really happened with the Franson-Gorges deal.

        But we may well look back on it as the start of a new era.

        1. Shanahan saw that Nonis is slow to learn from mistakes.

        2. Robidas was the consolation, who’s struggles allowed Percy to get exposure.

        3. We’ll get a pick/piece before the trade deadline. Remember one thing: the Habs really wanted Franson.

        Sometimes small moves, and the moves you don’t make, are the turn-arounds. But for that to happen, there has to be better decision making. By July, the house will be cleared up.

  • ‘”Why did they wait till the beginning of a tough road trip to pull the trigger?” I think they wanted confirmation Carlyle wasn’t their guy and this part of the schedule can really expose the faults in the remaining players to gauge whether or not to keep or trade.

    • Jeremy Ian

      That’s plausible. But: They really needed the win streak to fizzle (like all the others) to confirm the pattern since RC took over? All they had to do was strip away the OT wins and the misfortune would appear, voilà. Bozak almost singlehandedly kept the illusion going.

      And what will a coaching change before a brutal road trip, followed by an all-star break tell you about the roster struggling to adjust to a new system? I really don’t know. After the the incident with the salute happened, there’s been no ballast.

      Exposing faults? Why hire an analytics crew if you were going to test players by throwing them into a vortex like this and “gauge” whether or not to keep them?

      And if that’s the logic, if they struggle and you want to unload them, haven’t you just debased their trade value?

      One can rationalize this style of decision making. But my Logic 101 would say that management has lost hold of the tiller going into a storm (just to stick with the sailing metaphor).

      Now, having ranted about the top and the perils of turning emergencies into learning opportunities, Rielly and Kadri have shone. Two young guys playing on a team in an epic crisis, playing their hearts out every night? There’s a future…