The Toronto Maple Leafs were third worst in the NHL in penalty killing last season at 77.4 per cent success rate, ahead of just Edmonton and Colorado. This doesn’t equal a complete retooling of defensive personnel, as the pieces were there for success.
Toronto were actually 8th in the league in allowed shots shorthanded. The issue came down to goaltending, which was the worst in the league shorthanded, with a save percentage of just .835. James Reimer, terrific at even strength between the pipes, clocked in at .855 with the Leafs down a man, while Jean-Sebastien Giguere was notably worse at .835. Jonas Gustavsson was at .794, well below a goaltender’s “Mendoza Line”.
Applying James Reimer’s shorthanded percentage to the rest of the team’s goaltenders, the number of 4 vs. 5 goals gets lopped from 57 to 50, so a slight difference which equals to about a win over the course of the season. Of course, no reformat of the penalty kill is going to stave off the whole 8-point difference between the Leafs and a playoff spot, but in the economical NHL, those small pieces add up.
The relucatance of Leafs management to use the recently-re-signed Mike Zigomanis as a penalty-killing specialist was a little puzzling last season. Zigomanis had a perfectly acceptable Relative Corsi rating on the PK last season and his shot total was 35.3 over 60 minutes of PK time, which is very good considering he played a substantial number of PK minutes in October, the only time he was up with the big club last season. On Pittsburgh in 2009, it was 41.0, and with Phoenix in 2008, it was 41.8 (for individual stats, the goal total must be added to the “saved shot” total). The shot against total may be a bit deflated from last season due to a limited sample, but he’s made his way through his career as a legitimate penalty killer. Even if he were on the ice for a third of the Leafs minutes, at allowing 41 or 42 shots against rather than Toronto’s actual 48, that cuts off another one or two goals, and accounting for variance, that could well be worth another win.
The issue with Zigomanis last season was his save percentage on-ice on the penalty kill was .800, so he was very unlucky in that regard last season. Coupled with a single assist, his visual statistics were pretty poor last season, even if his underlying numbers weren’t. He didn’t play much last season, but he had good high-quality scoring chance numbers. For a team lacking in depth at centre, with limited cheap options available, Zigomanis is a viable third-line candidate, who does all the little things right that the media love: he kills penalties, he’s a 30-year old NHL veteran among the youngest team in the league, and Don Cherry loves the guy.