Game Preview: Maple Leafs @ Sabres






8-9-3, 19 points

8-12-3, 19 points

PP %

16.9%, 15th

12.4%, 26th

PK %

75.8%, 28th

80.5%, 22nd

Goals For



Goals Against



The Toronto Maple Leafs travel down the QEW to take on the Buffalo Sabres. I’m not sure what the opposite of a happy hunting ground would be but HSBC Arena has certainly been just that for the Leafs. Since the lockout they are 5-11-2 and have only scored more than two goals once in their last six visits. But if the Leafs are going to make the playoffs these games against fellow bubble teams are the kinds of games that they need to win.

But what are the Leafs’ probabilities of the Leafs making the playoffs with 19 points from 20 games? Well, Kevin McGran contacted a ‘mathematician’ to determine just that:

Sorry Leaf fans, but according to the numbers, your team is likely to miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season.

NHL teams that occupy a playoff spot by American Thanksgiving find themselves in the actual playoffs 77.5 per cent of the time. And that, of course, is bad news for teams like the Maple Leafs, who find themselves outside today.

Call it Bleak Thursday if you want, but teams outside the playoffs today have — at best — a 22.5 per cent chance of moving into a playoff spot based on a Star statistical analysis of the NHL standings back to 1993.

That does seem bleak doesn’t it? Well, thankfully the study was not so much about statistical probabilities as it was a historical look at what had happened. Lucky for us, an intrepid soul decided to point out just how wrongheaded McGran’s article was:

While I respect Kevin and have enjoyed reading his articles in the past, I really don’t believe that the numbers he states, while based on real data, are representative of true "probabilities".  For instance, Kevin presents a "probability" table which indicates that the Leafs stand a 12% chance to make the playoffs based on their current point total and history.  However, the same table also states that teams with 18 points at this time of year stand a 30% chance of making the playoffs.  If you ask me, that’s a bit of a head scratcher.  How can a having one less point in the standings, at this time of year, give you a more than 100% boost in your chances of making the playoffs?  The same table Kevin presents also shows that having 16 points at this time of year (3 less than the Leafs current total) brings you to a 36% chance of making the playoffs.  At 13 points (6 less than the Leafs current total) brings you to 29%, and finally, having 10 points (9 less than the Leafs current total) brings you to 33% chance of making the playoffs.

Even his own colleague was skeptical as Vinay Menon pulls the statistician’s arguments apart hilariously. Needless to say, the Maple Leafs themselves were less than impressed or daunted by  these ‘findings’. For a look at statistics that are relevant to the Leafs’ chances this year you should read James Mirtle’s comparison with last year of the Leafs first 20 games. The offence is obviously struggling but on the defensive side the Leafs have made a lot of progress. They are 4th in shots allowed per game, 11th in goals against, and 17th in save percentage. All three figures are vast improvements and point to Ron Wilson having some ability to teach defensive hockey. Of course, the penalty kill mark still leaves a lot to be desired.

And on that note, a flashback to a bette rnight in Buffalo: