The Penalty Kill Will Get Better… Probably

Jonathan Willis
November 14 2011 07:50PM

Seeing Toronto’s penalty kill ranked dead last in the NHL isn’t really a surprise at any point in the season. In the last five years, the team’s best finish was 27th overall and there were a pair of dead-last seasons in there.

Yet, there’s reason to hope that this year’s group can improve at least a little from their putrid start on the penalty kill.

The following chart shows the Leafs’ average number of shots against in an hour of 4-on-5 ice time, as well as their average save percentage in 4-on-5 situations since 2007-08 (all data from Behind the Net):

Season 4-on-5 SA/60 4-on-5 SV%
2007-08 48.0 0.855
2008-09 53.7 0.824
2009-10 54.9 0.848
2010-11 47.8 0.835
2007-11 51.1 0.841
2011-12 48.0 0.803

All those wretched penalty kills from 2007 on are summed up in the second last row. On average, those versions of the Maple Leafs allowed a hair over 51 shots in an average hour of time while down a man, and had a save percentage of 0.841. This year, the Leafs are averaging fewer shots against, but their save percentage is a miserable 0.803 in shorthanded situations. Ergo, when that save percentage comes up the unit should be better.

But there’s a wrinkle, a wrinkle explained expertly in the delightfully titled, “Shot to the Chart. But Who’s To Blame? (You Give Goalies A Bad Name). ”

The whole piece is worth a read, but basically the data shows the following: better goaltending impacts a penalty kill, but not nearly as much as a bad penalty kill drags down a goalie’s numbers.

In other words, this isn’t like an even-strength situation, where we can almost always expect a bad save percentage to regress to the mean. For a bad penalty-killing group, a bad save percentage is par for the course.

The good news, though, is that no team has a save percentage as bad as this year’s Leafs. The worst teams the last four years have, in order, the following save percentages: 0.848, 0.824, 0.842 and 0.835. Even assuming the Leafs equal the worst number from the last four years and post a 0.824 SV% in 4-on-5 situations, they would be two goals better so far this year and be on pace to finish 10 goals better over the season as a whole.

It’s not a lot, but every little bit helps. There’s also a distinct possibility that this group of Maple Leafs doesn’t post the worst penalty-killing save percentage of the last four seasons, which would add up to more improvements.

Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including the Edmonton Journal, Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
#1 KevinM
November 16 2011, 10:02AM
Trash it!

In order for the leafs to be better at the PK they will need to have specialists like leafs teams of old and most other teams.

The leafs need to bring Zigomanis up from the minors along with Keith Olie, it is time to send Dupuis and Gardner down for some experience.

These moves will actually improve the leafs penalty kill as well as 5 on 5 play.

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