February 19 2013 12:45PM
I'm at a loss for words to explain Toronto's run of good fortune lately. Not only have they been generating scoring chances at a rate far higher than you would expect from their shot totals, but a good number of those chances are going in, especially lately.
Toronto has won six games out of their last seven, a blemish only against the Carolina Hurricanes. In those seven games, the Leafs have out-chanced their opposition 92-86, which isn't horrific domination. They've out-scored their opponents 24-9 in the process, which is horrific domination. A lot of things right now are clicking for Toronto, especially the goaltending. Ben Scrivens has come in and been lights-out.
And it's great for Scrivens, who is well-regarded as a smart individual (Steve had an excellent interview with him this summer). I loved his post-game interview with Paul Hendricks after his second consecutive shutout. Scrivens is right to call shutouts a "team stat". Goaltender numbers, with the plausible exception of even strength save percentage, are team statistics. Goals against averages and shutouts are determined if a team allows a lot of shots in front of the goaltender and ought to be considered more defensive statistics. Wins and losses, well, that's obvious, those are team stats: it's what the NHL uses to judge which teams make the playoffs. Save percentage even to a degree can be influenced if a team takes a large amount of penalties.
There was also an interview, although I missed it, where Scrivens mentioned "regression to the mean". He also tweeted out a link of mine where I detailed the myth of the "hot hand" when it comes to goaltenders. He's an intelligent guy who isn't going to be caught up in anything more than processes, and seems to focus on those more than results:
“I try as hard as possible not to be superstitious,” said Scrivens. “I’m liberal with my pre-game routines. Just enjoy it. Once you get on the ice, focus on the processes, on the puck, on the releases. Give yourself a chance.”
I hope he has a decent NHL career, mostly because he seems like a player who could become an impeccable broadcaster. He's an Ivy Leaguer, very thoughtful, and very gracious of the opportunity he's been given in the absence of James Reimer. Most importantly for the Leafs however, he's been playing very well.
Ben Scrivens save percentage on shots deemed to be a scoring chance in his three starts is .903. That was identical to his save percentage last season in his 12 appearances. You can't say that the Leafs' success is entirely thanks to the defence limiting chances, but you also can't say that the Leafs' success isn't entirely Scrivens. Toronto is still generating opportunities closer to the opponents' net, which is counter-intuitive considering the team has given up so many shots.
Eventually, this run will run out for Scrivens, and for the Leafs, but for now it's good to see the team pile up points while they're getting good goaltending and not squandering the performances they've had so far this season. The goaltending has been good enough to cushion the fact the Leafs have a single checking line, and that Colton Orr has spent two games playing on Nazem Kadri's wing. It's an interesting team right now, and lots of possibilities for what the future holds for the group.
Tonight they play the Tampa Bay Lightning:
Puck Drop: 7:30 PM EST
TV: Leafs TV
Radio: TSN Radio 1050
By the Numbers:
|Fenwick Close||44.14% (29th)||45.02% (27th)|
|Team Shooting %||12%||10.1%|
|Team Save %||0.911||0.938|
|PP Success||26.3% (3rd)||15.5% (21st)|
|5v4 GF/60||7.4 (9th)||4.5 (25th)|
|5v4 SF/60||36.9 (28th)||48.7 (13th)|
|PK Success||82.1% (15th)||81.1% (17th)|
|4v5 GA/60||4.3 (6th)||6.5 (18th)|
|4v5 SA/60||47.0 (17th)||50.7 (21st)|
Those numbers haven't been updated for last night's games, so the Leafs trawl around as one of the worst puck-possession teams in the league by the Fenwick Tied statistic that measures all unblocked shots. That said, Tampa Bay has been worse. They were pretty poor last season and exceptionally poor this season.
That said, Tampa Bay has an extremely potent offence. They lead the league in goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 with 3.5 and should present an interesting challenge for the Leafs' defence, which has generally been successful at shutting down scoring chances this season and keeping shots to the perimeter. I'm not sure if that's a repeatable talent, since a lot of teams never show that kind of ability over the course of a season. I am somewhat stumped.
The important thing to grasp is that Tampa Bay is a pretty good offensive team but really bad defensively, although they're pretty average on the penalty kill. They like to rush the puck forward, bringing up defencemen and generally leaving their last-man back and goaltender high and dry. The goaltender happens to be Anders Lindback this season, and if there's a positive to his play, it's that he's been "better than Dwayne Roloson". Lindback has a .903 even strength save percentage this season in 10 starts. Tampa's overall .911 goaltending is slightly below average, when last season it was "worst" in the NHL.
Of course, the Lightning aren't known for Lindback. Steven Stamkos has scored more goals than any other NHLer since he broke into the league in 2008-2009: he has 188. Comparatively, Phil Kessel, who is 8th on the same list, has 138. Stamkos is the straw that stirs the Bolts' drink offensively, and in the teams' last game, and has seen a bevy of different line mates over the course of his career. Here is how the Bolts looked in their last game:
Cory Conacher - Steven Stamkos - Teddy Purcell
Benoit Pouliot - Vincent Lecavalier - Martin St. Louis
Alexander Killorn - Nate Thompson - Tom Pyatt
Richard Panik - Adam Hall - BJ Crombeen
Sami Salo - Victor Hedman
Eric Brewer - Matt Carle
Brian Lee - Marc-Andre Bergeron
The Bolts beat the Panthers 6-5 in overtime last time out, so I think they may keep the same lineup handy. Here's how those players have been used this season via Ninja Greg's usage chart:
If you follow usage charts, you'll see that generally, the Lightning's depth players have seen the real tough minutes this season, and it's odd that Guy Boucher would include BJ Crombeen in that group. Think of that line as similar to Jay McClement and Frazer McLaren—the way Randy Carlyle likes to get McClement more minutes is to move him north to play on the checking unit with Mikhail Grabovsk and Nikolai Kulemin.
However, Boucher doesn't do that, generally sending players down a spot, Nate Thompson or Tom Pyatt, or whichever rookie is in the game, to play in a checking role. As you can tell by the big red dot and Tampa's overall possession numbers, the strategy hasn't exactly worked this season.
What it has been able to do is get all the Lightning offensive stars: Stamkos, St. Louis, Lecavalier, Conacher & Co. a lot of offensive zone starts. Guy Boucher zone matches his forwards rather than pay attention to personnel decisions, keeping Hall and Thompson taking face-offs almost exclusively in the defensive zone and Stamkos and Lecavalier in the offensive zone.
That changes with the defence. Generally they see equal competition (and Victor Hedman is the best one again) with the exception of Marc-Andre Bergeron. If he's in the lineup tonight, expect to see him get a lot of offensive zone minutes with Stamkos and his line. Boucher doesn't give Bergeron any tough defensive assignments, keeping him at one end of the rink and as a powerplay threat. He's one of the most specialized defencemen in hockey.
On the Leafs side, here were the lines last night with the return of Carl Gunnarsson:
James van Riemsdyk - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Nik Kulemin - Mikhail Grabovski - Leo Komarov
Clarke MacArthur - Nazem Kadri - Colton Orr
Mike Brown - Jay McClement - Frazer McLaren
Dion Phaneuf - Korbinian Holzer
Carl Gunnarsson - Mike Kostka
Cody Franson - Mark Fraser
It's expected Scrivens will get another start. Game-day skate was optional, so not sure if Liles will again be held out of the lineup.
On the defence, I think it may be time to end the Korbinian Holzer experiment. Him and Phaneuf as a pairing have just a 36.9% puck-possession rate, meaning that way less than half of the shots taken with those two on the ice are being directed at the opponents' net. That means that pairing is spending a lot of time in its own end.
Which begs the question… who plays with Phaneuf? The only defenceman that has seen significant minutes with him is Mike Kostka, but that pairing together wasn't nearly as effective as Phaneuf and Gunnarsson last season. At some point, Carlyle needs to go back to that pairing and damn the torpedoes on Phaneuf playing on the off-side. That pair was close to par last season in tough minutes. Phaneuf has picked up all the tough assignments this year on his lonesome next to two defencemen with a combined two games of NHL experience heading into this season.
Up front, anybody reading this blog knows my thoughts on Colton Orr with Nazem Kadri. I don't think it's working. The line has combined for three scoring chances "for" and six "against" when on the ice together, and considering Kadri is supposed to be the player the Leafs use the most on offence, that's not enough. I don't know why Tim Connolly can't play with them… or why they can't trade for a depth winger who was a high pick coming out of junior but never adjusted to the NHL. I understand the options are slim on the wings for the Leafs with the injuries to Joffrey Lupul and Matt Frattin, but dressing three thugs takes away from the checking possibilities of the Leafs and hamstrings both the Grabovski line and the Bozak line into taking too many defensive zone face-offs and not getting enough opportunities at the right end.
Although, when Orr fought and was off for five minutes last night, Carlyle sent out Phil Kessel with Kadri and MacArthur. That should be the Leafs' top line.
Puck drop again at 7:30. I'll be by with a recap. Pension Plan Puppets has more on the game, including a preview with questions on the Bolts answered by Lightning blog Raw Charge.
Lines information from Left Wing Lock