Sustainability and the Toronto Marlies

Jeff Veillette (Jeffler)
May 18 2014 01:15PM

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Going into the Western Conference Finals, the Toronto Marlies have yet to lose a game in these playoffs. The first round consisted a three game sweep of the Milwaukee Admirals. The second round consisted of a four game sweep of the Chicago Wolves. This team has to be in the discussion of best AHL playoff teams ever, right? Well, not exactly. A lot of things are going the right way for them.

Individual Players

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I think I've mentioned this before; the American Hockey League is straight up horrible with providing the public with statistics that are useful in player evaluation. There's no differentiation between even strength and special teams minutes, mostly because there isn't any form of publicized time on ice. You have to make your own shooting percentages. Heaven forbid you wanted to make this into advanced statistics.

So, with this considered, I'm doing the worst thing you could ever do; I'm extrapolating both the regular season and playoffs into 76 game samples. It's the best thing possible under the circumstances, and lets you at least partially see if guys are playing over their heads. Here are a few observations.

  • It just occurred to me now that Andrew MacWilliam has played 63 professional games in his career and still doesn't have a goal. I'd say he due, but if he's still yet to shoot the puck in these playoffs and is recovering from another injury, I wouldn't hold my breath..
  • T.J. Brennan is staying pretty consistent. I'm sure that both Milwaukee and Chicago felt that he was a player they had to cover from an offensive standpoint, but he's shooting just as much and contributing to the scoreboard to the same video game-esque extremes.
  • Greg McKegg has a "hot stick" right now, shooting at a completely unrealistic 27.3%, but seeing as he's shooting even less than his already below typical rate in the regular season, it's likely a matter of him picking his spots. If you look at his goals so far, two of them are unobstructed wrist shots from the hash marks with no passing options, and his first of the playoffs consisted of a wide open net with a cross crease reception. That's not a fault to him; he's spent most of the year with volume shooters and he likes to move the puck around, but explains his current peak. 
  • I get that Kevin Marshall is a stay at home defenceman and is probably taking low percentage shots, but 1.35% over the regular season is obnoxiously low. He has to due at some point. The same goes for Stuart Percy, who is shooting under 4% despite typically being on the second powerplay unit.
  • Jerry D'Amigo is having a hell of a productive playoffs, as he usually does. That 26.7 SH% is a little nuts, though surprisingly, he was firing at an 18.3 rate during the regular season. Probably a situation similar to McKegg; he's a rush player who capitalizes on gimme situations. Not to mention that outside of his OT winner in Game 3, he has two empty netters and a deflection to thank for his goals, and a bunch of secondary assists to continue the padding. I think that he might be a situation where "gives his all" becomes quantifiable; he switches to an offensive role in the playoffs, and while he doesn't suddenly get more talented, his riskier aggression to get into areas where the puck is heading puts him in better spots to chip in points. Probably not the best way to play in the regular season though, it's a miracle he walks out of any given game without an injury.
  • It occurred to me in the creation of this chart that the oft-scratched Tyler Biggs' Regular Season SH% is actually above average, which makes his lack of production even more underwhelming. One has to hope he becomes incredibly gifted as a shut down player, because this "all-zone power forward" thing he was drafted for isn't going to happen. In the meantime, his defensive side of the game isn't there yet, and his offensive side isn't enough to allow him to stay in the lineup.
  • Despite all the hype on D'Amigo, it looks like Peter Holland is producing at the same scale. Breakaways and one timers have definitely helped the 40% shooting rate and goal-per game pace, but he looks like an NHL player out there right now.
  • Brandon Kozun's last goal of the season came at Game 57. Sure, he missed a few games due to injury, but he still went freezing cold. Looks like the past couple of games have been a make-shift rebound for him, though it's worth noting that two of his three came in Game 2 of Round 1. and that he only has 1 in his last 5.
  • Sam Carrick is just littering the net with any puck he can find, on a full season pace of just under 300 Shots. I don't blame him; he's been increasingly hot down the stretch, and if it's going to continue down the stretch, why not take advantage of it?

Last, but not least, and not pictured, is Drew MacIntyre. He pointed out a few days ago that the Marlies could have lost any of the games that they've played thus far, and he's definitely right. One of the biggest reason's they're 7-0 instead of eliminated is obnoxiously strong performance over the last couple of weeks. I mean, a 0.949 save percentage in the playoffs? That's basically unheard of, not to mention two shutouts in seven games despite having just one in 48 in the regular season. If he falters, this team is in bad shape.

Team Statistics

My emphasis, as you've probably figured out, has been on shooting and save percentages compared to the regular season. There's only so much you can work with, and those numbers tend to give you a hint as to whether something is a streak or a pattern. As a whole, the team's performance points to streak.

Toronto's all-situation's PDO over the regular season is a 1014. That's not alarmingly high, especially when you consider that includes an above average special teams (7th PP, 11th PK). I wish there was a way to make it even-strength only, but I imagine that they'd land closer to 1000 if you could. These playoffs, on the other hand? An obnoxious 1094, driven by a SV% of 0.949 (vs 0.916) and a combined SH% of 14.42 (vs 10.02). I don't think an elite NHL team could sustain those numbers in the AHL, let alone this Marlies roster.

If you look at the shots totals, the team isn't that much different from the one that played in the regular season. Their 29.7 shots per game is a slight upgrade on the 29.3 they put up over 76 games. They're giving up 31 shots per game, just ahead of the 30.7 they gave up in the regular season. Over all, we're looking at a team going from taking 48.82% of the shots in a game, to 48.94%. Granted, Milwaukee and Chicago are above average opponents, but it's a wash.

Conclusion

The Toronto Marlies are controlling the game in these playoffs as much as they did in the regular season. Which is to say, they aren't, but only slightly and enough to make things work if their top-end players contribute at the rates they're advertised to. But now? The entire team is doing it. Pucks are flying in for everybody, and Drew MacIntyre is having a moment where he looks like he could be thrown to the wolves in the other Western Conference Finals and still find success. 

There's nothing wrong with a team going through a hot streak. You need those to win, especially in the playoffs. The key for them now is for the team to not see this as them being "dominant" or "invincible". They need to remember that they've been outshot in six of seven games, and easily could've lost any of them. Without putting too much pressure on themselves, they need to keep focused and need to keep working on improving themselves.

This is a make or break moment for this group. If they think the last few weeks will last forever, they'll be pushed to the side as quick as the teams they faced. If they take it seriously, there may be a chance at a championship yet.

Header photo courtesy of Christian Bonin / TSGPhoto.com 

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I bring news about the Toronto Marlies, opinions about the Toronto Maple Leafs, and a bunch of ridiculous thoughts about everything else.
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#1 WesternDP
May 18 2014, 02:44PM
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Best stat so far:

Over two rounds how many minutes have the Marlies let the opponent play with a lead?

0

So yes, that's crazy hot and a bit lucky.

But fate may be smiling of the Marlies and they might be able to win two more rounds.

The Marlies rest and practice, while the Stars and the Griffins are still playing. That series is going to go 6 or 7 games. So in order to meet the Marlies, one of the other teams will play 9-11 playoff games while the Marlies rest after playing 7. The Marlies might be much fresher and this could help them in the next round.

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#2 leaferfan
May 18 2014, 04:03PM
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This is funny but your numbers suggest that Steve Spott is a high PDO coach just like Randy Carlyle.

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#3 esoteriksky
May 18 2014, 06:12PM
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With the Marlies playing with leads isn't it usual for opponents to be pressing and the Marlies to be looking for high percentage 2 on 1 opportunities, which seems to explain the statistical data. As long as the Marlies continue to gain leads it would seem to me that victories and high shot percentages are sustainable.

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#4 Ben
May 19 2014, 07:06AM
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Useful to point out but its all very predictable. These 'advanced' statistics become less useful in the playoffs in my opinion. Sample sizes are too small, luck becomes too significant. Team has never trailed in the playoffs? Score effects are probably going to skew the shot clock to the opponent. Team is on a 7 game win streak against above average teams? They're probably both executing their system AND getting lucky with the goaltending and shooting percentages.

CHI: 11.0% shooting, .931 save % NYR: 9.5% shooting, .924 save % MON: 10.6% shooting, .910 save % LAK: 10.1% shooting, .911 save %

Every remaining NHL team has a PDO over 1000. And it should also be noted that Chicago and Montreal are both being outshot these playoffs, Chicago by a significant margin.

Its also why when people say 'the one and only goal is to win the Cup', they seem ridiculous to me. There is way too much out of a team's control when it comes to winning four series in a row against other playoff calibre teams. This may be semantics to some but, for me, the goal should be icing a perennial playoff team. The old adage, that if you can get into the playoffs 'anything can happen', is true. Management's goal should be putting together a team that consistently has a chance to have 'anything happen'.

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#5 Frag
May 19 2014, 09:37AM
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Looking at some of the box scores, I'm wondering how much of this is affected by score effects. The Marlies seem to get early leads in many of these games, sometimes up by 2+ by the end of the 1st. This isn't to say they have been good in score close situations nor do I suggest they haven't been bailed out by goaltending. However, I think score effects should be taken into consideration for this analysis.

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#6 leaferfan
May 19 2014, 07:10PM
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@esoteriksky

Probably the dumbest comment of the year.

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