The Leafs' Statistical Progression In December, As A Team

Jeff Veillette
January 03 2017 12:30PM

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Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY SPORTS

Happy New Year! We're actually a few days into 2017 already, but that doesn't change the fact that we're now able to look back on December. It was a good month for the blue and white; their 7-4-3 record brought them ever closer to being comfortably in a playoff spot. Like we did a month ago, let's see how the team progressed from November to December.

Shot Metrics

Here are Toronto's shot and goal-based numbers (with score adjustment) from November:

Stat Corsi Fenwick Shots xGoals Chances Goals
For/60 58.72 (11th) 44.78 (4th) 31.96 (7th) 3.45 (1st) 13.17 (1st) 2.65 (7th)
Against/60 63.18 (29th) 48.3 (29th) 34.74 (29th) 2.93 (29th) 10.46 (29th) 3.03 (28th)
Percentage 48.17 (21st) 48.11 (22nd) 47.92 (22nd) 54.11 (4th) 55.73 (5th) 46.66 (18th)

Conversely, here are December's:

Stat Corsi Fenwick Shots xGoals Chances Goals
For/60 66.08 (2nd) 51.32 (1st) 37.17 (1st) 2.89 (4th) 8.89 (10th) 2.33 (14th)
Against/60 59.63 (27th) 45.05 (26th) 30.97 (22nd) 2.40 (16th) 7.55 (9th) 1.53 (3rd)
Percentage 52.57 (7th) 53.25 (6th) 54.55 (6th) 54.61 (5th) 54.61 (6th) 60.35 (4th)

Toronto is still controlling the danger areas at an elite level, but they're now also dictating the other parts of the ice as well. Toronto has brought their attempts and shots for, unblocked or not, back into the top of the league, and while they're still giving up more efforts than most teams, they've cut the actual number down significantly. Pair that with Frederik Andersen going into god mode down the stretch, and the results are a wicked, wicked goal ratio that helped contribute to those wins. 

Like we did in November, we'll also break down the ratio of where attempted shots for and against went as they happened.

Here's November:

Stat On Goal Blocked Missed Chance Expected
For Breakdown 50.63% 28.09% 21.28% 16.76% 4.51%
Against Breakdown 52.26% 25.33% 22.41% 15.42% 4.51%

Here's December:

Stat On Goal Blocked Missed Chance Expected
For Breakdown 56.25% 22.34% 21.41% 13.45% 4.37%
Against Breakdown 51.94% 24.45% 23.61% 12.66% 4.02%

There's not a gigantic difference here, but there is one noticeable jump; Toronto is getting their pucks through traffic a little more proficiently. Maybe that's a case of them shooting for goals rather than shooting for rebounds, which would be reflected in their drop in scoring chances for and their drop in chance percentage.

Zone Starts/Finishes

Here's how Toronto's zone presence breaks down

Month OZS% DZS% NZS% OZF% DZF% NZF% Start Ratio Finish Ratio Difference
November 29.57 32.89 37.54 33.55 37.42 29.03 47.34 47.27 -0.07
December 32.09 34.14 33.77 36.57 38.69 24.73 48.45 48.59 -0.14

Not a ton of shakeup here either. It seems some time was shifted from the Neutral Zone to the other zones; possibly a case of them opening the ice up a bit more, more likely just variance with the tight margins that we're looking at.

Special Teams

Month 5v4 CF60 5v4 CF% 5v4 xGF60 4v5 CA60 4v5 CF% 4v5 xGA60
November 86.57 (16th) 81.74 (29th) 5.43 (21st) 102.26 (26th) 11.59 (18th) 7.04 (24th)
December 105.02 (5th) 83.80 (27th) 7.75 (4th) 93.38 (21st) 10.00 (20th) 5.13 (5th)

This is another area where Toronto had some big gains. They generated a ton more offence, cut down attempts against significantly, and on both sides of special teams, were among the best teams in the league. My initial take, which I'm going to more research into before locking in, is that maybe this is proof that Ben Smith was dragging the penalty kill down more than the third pairing was; Toronto's CA60 before his injury was 101.28, but squeaks down to 86.72 since. 

Other Stats

Toronto's rush style of play is perhaps best outlined by the fact that they took just 536 faceoffs in November; over 200 behind Arizona (the most) and 35 behind the Senators (second fewest). They've also created a positive penalty differential, and gave away the puck more than they took it away; often an indication of having it more often. Toronto allowed the second fewest shots on off the rush according to Corsica's definition of the stat, and the second fewest rebounds. 

Interestingly, there may be some room to grow offensively; after a month of shooting at 10.3% at 5-on-5, a bit above the league average of 8.5%, they've tumbled down to a 27th-ranked 6.27 at evens. Andersen (and a bit of Bibeau) bailed those cold sticks out, though; their combined 0.951 trailed just Dallas (I'm as surprised as you) and Columbus (less shocking).

Overall, this led to the Leafs having a 1013 PDO in December. That's above even, but about where a high-talent team with a good goalie should be, and it's actually a drop from 1023 in November!

Conclusions

Straight up, the Toronto Maple Leafs were on the cusp of being a deservedly elite team in December. They drove play, they executed well on special teams, they had great goaltending, they dictated the pace of their games, and while they sputtered out of the gate, the end-of-season winning streak was deserved after all the efforts they put in. If the Leafs can keep this momentum going into January, we might be going from talking about growing pains to chasing the second seed in the Atlantic Division.

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Managing Editor of Hockey Content at the Nation Network. Just here so I'll get the opposite of fined. If you'd like to collaborate or simply have a question, email me at jeff@veillette.me