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%|
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.