James Reimer performs exorcism: Maple Leafs win 4-2 inexplicably

Photo via Abelimages/NHLInteractive via Getty

Most nights I have a lot of available information to work with to craft a game story. Perhaps a game was won or lost based around a particular matchup, or there was a repeated example in the game indicative of a season-long trend that played a factor in the result. None of that was really evident in the Maple Leafs’ latest win, this one over the New Jersey Devils, sans Martin Brodeur, 4-2 Monday night.

The goals were scored by Nazem Kadri, Jay McClement, Clarke MacArthur and Phil Kessel. That is a collection of players that have received rave endorsements from the Corsiati that populate this Toronto Maple Leaf blog and others. While Brodeur for much of his career has been known to be a tad error-prone, he had looked better than Johan Hedberg was Monday. Hedberg got a good piece of the first three Toronto goals. At the other end, Hedberg’s opposite James Reimer was terrific, stopping 28 of 30 shots including an unreal save off of Patrik Elias seconds after MacArthur’s go-ahead goal.

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This game was a mess. It is like seeing your friend get his tongue stuck on a flagpole. “Dude, why did you do that? You’re unharmed, I guess, but you probably shouldn’t do that again.”

-Why? Toronto was out-shot quite decisively. It was 30-23 for the Devils, but a much more decisive 18-10 through two periods. After two periods, the Leafs were out-chanced by New Jersey 7-2 at even strength and 8-3 by totals. Travis Zajac hit a post, and after Marek Zidlicky, of all people, had tied the game at ones on a seeing-eye wrist shot, he crashed the net (again, this is Marek Zidlicky) and the Devils took a 2-1 lead. Based on the way the Leafs were playing, it would have been unlikely for them to pull themselves out of that hole.

-But this isn’t the first time we’ve seen the Leafs play poorly in 67 per cent of the game and dominate the other 33. Usually, though, they play well in the first and tail off in the second and third. They flipped the script, out-chancing New Jersey 5-4 in the final 20 and outshooting them 13-12. The Devils had a stronger advantage with regards to zone time: in the contest, they missed an additional 21 shots and had 20 attempts blocked: the Leafs had just 9 misses and 16 attempts blocked. The vast majority of play was spent in Toronto’s end. Any idiot could have watched this game and said the Leafs were lucky to get out of the first up a goal and out of the second down only one.

-So who were the best Leafs? The primary reason the team won was James Reimer. New Jersey moved the puck well in the offensive zone and got a lot of good shots from a lot of mid-range spaces that result in goals, but only two pucks passed Reimer. Of the Devils 12 total scoring chances (including one powerplay opportunity) 8 were shots on net, and seven were turned aside. Both Leafs goalies had a rough go of it in each of their last appearances so it was nice to see somebody turn it around in a positive direction.

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-The other best player for the Leafs? Johan Hedberg. In no universe should Nazem Kadri’s goal have gone in. While McClement was left all alone for his goal, he didn’t get a good shot away and Hedberg *had* to make that save. He allowed 3 goals on 18 even strength shots, and of the Leafs’ six scoring chances that were on net, Hedberg only stopped three. Talk a big game about “shot quality” but there was limited quantity *and* quality in the Leafs’ shots Monday. They snuck away from a game they ought to have lost.

-The best Leafs offensively at even strength were Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel, each on the ice for three scoring chances “for”. Unfortunately, they spent a good portion of time out against Ilya Kovalchuk, who at press time was considered to be a pretty good hockey player. Kovalchuk was +4/-1 in his 27:38 of ice-time. He is wicked underrated on defence and can control the puck for seconds at a time by weaving through zones and keeping the puck off the sticks of the other teams’ good players. The Leafs top line were only able to generate one good shot against him, with their others coming against the Travis Zajac line and the other against New Jersey’s fourth line.

-Man… 27:38… those are Colton Orr-like minutes!

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-Speaking of Colton Orr, this is a game where nobody would be able to defend the fourth line or talk about their importance in the lineup. The reason why Toronto are winning games is because an evil wizard has cursed opposing goaltenders by having them play like marionettes whenever Toronto is the opposing team. The Leafs do not win or lose games because of Mike Brown or Frazer McLaren or Colton Orr. They are less likely to lose games the less ice-time that fourth line gets, and more likely to win if they can replace those minutes with players who can do a bit more in the offensive zone and defensive zone. Both Devils goals came with the fourth line on the ice, and after the second, Randy Carlyle did what he should have done a long time ago, and scrubbed the bench with the butt cheeks of both McLaren and Orr.

-Travis Zajac, David Clarkson and Patrik Elias were the only line that stayed consistently together throughout the game, which I found quite odd. Peter DeBoer, I’d have to look more into why, but he did split his lines up quite often. I guess you have to do that when you have your best two-way forward able to play close to 30 minutes a night and your next best (not counting the second line) able to play about 18. It creates some interesting possibilities especially when playing a coach like Carlyle who prefers a hard match.

-That Devils second line was also pretty good. I mentioned this save above, and may as well show the video. Probably won the game for Toronto here:

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-New Jersey’s fourth line was also pretty active. That team has had a few punchers in their lineup in memory, notably Eric Boulton and Cam Janssen, but their 100 PIM guy is David Clarkson, an excellent goal-scorer, and Boulton and Janssen are no longer with the team. Against the Leafs they played Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta and Krystopher Barch together as a unit. I don’t know too much about Barch’s game, but Carter and Gionta each got out for more than eight minutes and got a few scoring chances to go their way.

-Carter and Gionta combined for 12 face-offs, and 8 of them came in the neutral zone, which strikes me as a pretty high rate. Generally a little more than half of the draws for a player won’t be in a dedicated zone. Carlyle has a problem with the Leafs, either starting his 4th line in the offensive zone, he takes away a shift from good scorers. When he starts them in the defensive zone, he’s putting out a defensively-liable group. Steckel took eight draws, four in the neutral zone and three in the defensive zone. His only defensive zone draw at evens resulted in a goal against (not a scoring chance though). This is why, when Matt Frattin comes back, I’d prefer to keep McClement or Steckel on that wing and at least give the team another option in the defensive zone. Bozak is taking too many draws back there right now and I don’t know he’s up for the task. The first line keeps losing scoring chances battles.

-Mikhail Grabovski drew the tough assignment and lost up against Zajac, Clarkson and Elias. He only got 11:07 at even strength, however, which bothers me. He went +1/-2 individually while McClement and Nik Kulemin were beaten for a chance with Leo Komarov on the ice off the Grabovski line.

-Doug MacLean was an awful hockey general manager. He spoke during the intermission about how Tyler Bozak has buried Mikhail Grabovski on the third line, and how Bozak keeps getting points and has become so important for the Leafs. MacLean and Carlyle have both mistaken Tyler Bozak for Mikhail Grabovski, who is a capable defensive centreman with offensive flair who is not getting enough minutes, or enough opportunities to skate high-event hockey against top, defensively-suspect lines. Toronto keep getting out-shot, and one of Toronto’s best players continually plays fewer minutes than Bozak.

-Leafs first pairing also roughed up in the tough assignment. This is a recording. Korbinian Holzer and Dion Phaneuf were +0/-3 in the first period alone. Carl Gunnarsson was again excellent and his passes out of the zone were fantastic. Lots of power on them and usually finding sticks in neutral area. Limited his end-zone giveaways. Phaneuf used to play on his off-side in Calgary and had a lot of success with Gunnarsson last season. If Carlyle is so determined to get a top pairing out for 17 minutes a night against top competition, he should look at the players who did what he’s looking for last year.

-Again, if you say “but the Leafs won” you obviously didn’t pay attention to the fact that New Jersey nearly generated twice the amount of quality shots at even strength as the Leafs did.

-Mark Fraser was a minus-1, on the ice for two scoring chances for and five against. The regression is starting for the Leafs third pairing. They led the league in individual PDO at one point, which is the team’s shooting percentage plus save percentage while on the ice, and eventually those shots will stop going in and Reimer will stop making those saves. Fraser and Cody Franson have been a good pairing, but far from perfect, considering they play against third lines generally, with Nazem Kadri and still do make mistakes that the percentages have been covering up.

-Individual scoring chance differentials:

TARANNA Chances For Chances Vs. Chances +/-
Tyler Bozak 3 5 -2
James van Riemsdyk 3 5 -2
Phil Kessel 3 5 -2
Nazem Kadri 2 1 1
Clarke MacArthur 2 1 1
Leo Komarov 2 2 0
Mikhail Grabovski 1 2 -1
Nik Kulemin 1 3 -2
Jay McClement 1 3 -2
David Steckel 0 2 -2
Colton Orr 0 2 -2
Frazer McLaren 0 2 -2
Dion Phaneuf 3 4 -1
Korbinian Holzer 2 4 -2
Carl Gunnarsson 2 3 -1
Mike Kostka 1 3 -2
Cody Franson 2 3 -1
Mark Fraser 2 5 -3
NOO JOYZEE Chances For Chances Vs. Chances +/-
Stefan Matteau 1 1 0
Ilya Kovalchuk 4 1 3
Andrei Loktionov 2 0 2
Travis Zajac 4 3 1
David Clarkson 4 2 2
Patrik Elias 4 2 2
Adam Henrique 3 1 2
Alexei Ponikarovsky 3 1 2
Steve Bernier 2 3 -1
Ryan Carter 2 2 0
Stephen Gionta 2 2 0
Krys Barch 2 0 2
Bryce Salvador 4 1 3
Mark Fayne 4 1 3
Adam Larsson 3 1 2
Andy Greene 3 2 1
Mark Zidlicky 4 4 0
Henrik Tallinder 4 3 1

-Team chances:

  1st 2nd 3rd Total
Toronto (EV) 1 (0) 2 (2) 5 (4) 8 (6)
New Jersey (EV) 5 (4) 3 (3) 4 (4) 12 (11)

LeafsNation Three Stars

  1. Ilya Kovalchuk
  2. James Reimer
  3. Adam Henrique

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  • The only problem I have with the fourth line is that I wish Carlyle would sometimes bench Kessel when he turns the puck over and is responsible for a goal against just like he justly did for Orr and Mclaren. I also like how Carlyle took responsibility in a previous game when he put the Grabbo for a faceoff which he lost.

    And I like that Carlyle is demanding accountability from Orr and Kadri by restricting their TOI but I see zero accountability for Kessel and Phaneuf after their numerous bad games. Just because they are veterans and make big money does not mean they should be exempt from being accountable for their mistakes.

  • I was under the impression that all this advanced stats of PDO and Fenwick meant that the leafs would start losing. And yet they continue to find ways to win.

    I’m not sure we can put much faith in this kind of statistics when it continues to be proven wrong time again by Carlyle genius level coaching.

    That is, Carlyle is going to have this team in the playoffs which will cleanly disprove the utility of advanced stats. But if, the leafs do not quality then I will be more open to these stats.

  • With 28 games to go last season, I posted this: http://theleafsnation.com/2012/2/8/eastern-conference-bubble-update-february-8th

    Comment on that post:

    “When the leafs, with excessive PDO and way too low Fenwick, make the playoff – then finally people will come to realize that advanced stats are a complete fraud. The leafs laugh and are better then all this “regression to mean” talk.

    Go Leafs Go”

    Again, these aren’t numbers I bring up because I hate the Leafs in any way. If the team makes the playoffs, this website is going to get hundreds of thousands more clicks than it otherwise would. My job here though, is to temper positive and negative expectations and provide information as accurate as I can.

    The Leafs have 25 games left. In the 25 games after I wrote that post where somebody made the same arguments you are, the Leafs went 6-16-3. Puck luck dominates so much of this game in the short-term but over the long run, we have found time and time again that teams with excessive PDOs come back to earth.

  • I’ve been following your commentary for a while now and I’m really impressed with the level of your analysis. You are slowly but surely establishing a kind of predictability to this league and this game that I still have a hard time believing in spite of the evidence simply because it seems too good to be true… It’s really uncanny. Needless to say, I really hope you’re wrong and the Leafs continue to win, and I must admit that I still believe in toughness and hype and all those `unquantifiable` factors, but I am definitely keeping my mind open and following your method attentively.

    Correct me if I`m wrong but it is my understanding that what you`re saying is that the Leafs are currently playing above their heads, benefiting from puck luck and are bound to start losing and fall off the cliff again. That being the case, do you think that it is possible to avoid this if your prescription (and again, correct me if I`m wrong), namely, that the goons be eliminated from the roster and the shot count is improved, is applied? Also, I`d really like to know if you are able to predict the Leafs` final point count/place in the standings if no changes were to be made with any degree of certainty.

    Thanks for the amazing posts and thanks for your answer in advance.

  • Once again, you’re running under the (false) assumption that PDO always falls to 1000. Bruins ended their 10-11 season with a PDO of 1024 and won the cup to boot. Vancouver ended their past two seasons with PDOs of 1013 and 1016.

    There’s no reason (especially in a shortened season) to assume that the Leafs’ PDO will fall to 1000 in the next 25 games. Not to mention there have been weeks when they’ve been winning games and had their PDO fall.

  • I’ve never said the Leafs’ PDO will fall to 1000. I’ve said that it will fall towards 1000, and in the meantime, unless the team improves on the ice they’ll fall out of a playoff spot.

    I have pointed out that teams that have the PDO success of the Leafs after the first 20 games of the season have a record of seven points worse per 48 games in the next 28. I have never said “the Leafs PDO will finish exactly at 1000”.

    It’s documented evidence that teams with high PDOs after the first quarter of a season, or even the first half of a season, will have lower PDOs in the second half.

  • MaxPower417

    You’re doing the lords work here Cam. I won’t pretend to be exceptionally knowledgeable at the use of advanced stats in the NHL (though knowledgable enough to know previous posters buchered the application of PDO). But as a baseball fan I’m a stringent believe in sabremetrics, so I understand te motivation behind the movement.

    I also recognize the infancy of these stats and the challenge facing those that seak to quantify aspects of hockey which is a much more dynamic game than the individualist baseball.

    I’m sure you’re aware of the pushback against the acceptance of advanced stats in baseball, even under the much less varied surroundings, vastly superior quantities of data and a long history of its analysis by very smart people. It’s seemingly very hard for many people to let go of traditional ideals but hopefully, as time marches on and sample sizes increase, the evidence will get harder to ignore and more importantly, understanding will begin to filter through the community.

  • MaxPower417

    The leafs are getting out-chanced almost on a nightly basis. After all the Luongo talk, coupled with the goaltending (and team) meltdown last year, you would think the duo of Riemer and Scrivens would be getting a lot more attention for keeping the ship floating to this point. In games the leafs have no business being in they generally have a chance a la Monday night.