The Leafs penalty kill has improved, sitting at the halfway mark, 15th (heading into the game versus the Devils) after sitting at the bottom of the league for the past few seasons.
It’s a little strange to see them in the middle of the pack. They have played the 14th most minutes down a man at 127:43
. At home, they have played the fifth least minutes (52:52) and 19th on the road.
The improvement on the penalty kill is vital to success this season. Better defensive efforts at even-strength limit the effects being afraid to take a penalty that would likely lead to a goal against. They started off fairly well climbing to as high as sixth before dropping to 27th two weeks into the season before bouncing back to the mid-mark.
After 20 games they sat with an 80% success rate, good enough for 16th overall, yet at the time sported an .871 4v5 save percentage. The penalty kill has been stable ever since, despite a declining 4v5 Sv%
a theme we will explore more shortly.
The league average penalty kill success rate is 87.1 so as the overall Leafs penalty kill has been trending upward, the save percentage is trending down (these are pre-Devils game unless otherwise noted).
The league average has been trending up as the season has progressed, as shown below.
The Leafs penalty kill has reached a plateau as shown below. There’s a downside to this that we shall explore below.
Stabilizing the penalty kill is a contributing factor to the Leafs ability to win games, especially since they have played over 10 more minutes killing penalties than on the power play. The NHL measures the difference in special teams minutes, subtracting the total penalty kill time from time on the power play. Toronto ranks 10th overall with a difference of 12:52
. At home, they have a positive differential a few seconds shy of 18 minutes, ranking fourth overall.
The next graph may look a little busy, but the effects are clearer with a little explanation.
The second y-axis is a time-based increment associated solely with the blue columns representing the season’s power play minus penalty kill time differential.
The range up to 100 measures all the line graphs and the green columns quantifying the amount of times shorthanded.
At one point, the difference in specialty teams times was a shade over 28 minutes a couple of weeks into the season. This peak coincided with the Leafs penalty kill slumping to 27th overall in the rankings at 71.9% highlighted in the image. Despite playing more minutes with the man advantage, the penalty kill was an anchor.
Since then, the trend in special teams time differential has been downwards.
In the graphic below, the blue columns (superimposed over the TS (times shorthanded) columns for contrast, the columns are getting smaller, trending down. The 28 minute gap at the beginning of February has dwindled to a shade less than 13 minutes. Yet the penalty killing has improved and stabilized since then to about the league average.
The two lines at the bottom of the graph indicate the team’s rank in penalty kill percentage and the league-wide differential rank measured against the first scale.
The mark on Feb 18 with the Leafs in 12th overall drops drastically to 25th the following day signifies the point that the penalty kill began to overtake power play time, retreating further from the high of 28 minutes. As expected the overall ranking has improved to 14th, stabilizing despite this closing differential. Note that from before, the Leafs penalty kill save percentage has also been dropping to just below average as of the 23rd game played against the Devils.
This is what the Leafs wins and penalty-kill look like this season.
Below the table shows the difference in power play minutes versus penalty killing minutes as they appear since February 18. The last two columns are a difference in power play and penalty kill time from the previous game/date.
The second part to this is what has changed on the ice to facilitate this improvement. Many different factors come into play:
- Player usage
- Standing up on the blueline forcing a dump in instead of a free carry over the blueline to set up.
- Allowing the goalie to see shots
- Improved rebound clearing attempts
This is a subtle change, but has big repercussions.
Removing this restriction offers the players the ability to extend their reach, even if it is by a simple arm’s length. Now, they can get sticks into passing lanes, force players into parts of the ice by limiting their space and forcing the opposition to protect the puck away from defenders.
Allowing the players to take one hand off the stick also alters the body contortions required to change angles, and put sticks into passing lanes. The corresponding result is in the readiness of penalty killers to cut down space instead of changing their body positions to compensate for not being able to remove one hand.