“This hug is for penalty killers only, Phil. You don’t even go here.”
The penalty kill for the Toronto Maple Leafs was beyond awful last night against New Jersey. The Maple Leafs allowed six scoring chances, five of them resulting in difficult stops for James Reimer. He saved his best ones for last.
What was amazing about the awful performance for the penalty kill was that it’s rare that the Leafs had given up such a large number of scoring chances when down a man. This season, the penalty kill’s problems have been beyond fixed. We have enough data in the sample to be able to suggest that there’s really something to what Scott Gordon has done with the penalty kill. There’s no more fronting. The squad is getting legitimate pressure on the points and (though I have no data to back this up) it seems they’re stingier on allowing zone entries.
One of the amazing things about the Leafs penalty killing is that it has nothing to do with faceoffs. Last year, the Leafs top two penalty killers of David Steckel and Tim Connolly won 58% of their shorthanded draws. This season, Tyler Bozak and Jay McClement have combined to win just 51.7% of draws.
That’s not really what’s important though. The object of a penalty kill isn’t to win faceoffs—it’s to prevent shots. You can sit at the top of the circle and let Zdeno Chara blast pucks off your kneecaps if that’s what it takes. You can chase after loose pucks or you can sit around and wait for teams to make mistakes.
Here are how the Leafs rank in shots against on the penalty kill this season:
(That information, and other information below is from Hockey Analysis and Behind the Net. Two excellent resources. Learn how to use them, then impress your friends with awesome hockey predictive power. The above is from Hockey Analysis Team Stats page)
Shots have been cut by about 23% since the start of this season. I’ll have a few screen shots later this week on what the Leafs are doing differently, or at least appear to be doing differently, but I think trolling through a few stats right now will set it up later in the week.
Particularly for Jay McClement. Check out the shots against per 60 for forwards on the PK:
Even Bozak and Komarov, who represent the latter portion of the Leafs PK are doing better than the NHL average. So even with McClement off the ice, Toronto is successful defending against this. I think that represents some change of strategy that’s helping the team prevent shots against.
Where it gets real interesting is at even strength. McClement is, at best, mediocre at evens. He handles a lot of tough faceoffs in his own end, usually paired with Nik Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski, and usually against the tough opposition.
When he isn’t with Kulemin and Grabovski (though sometimes Leo Komarov or Ryan Hamilton or whoever the ninth winger on the Leafs is in any particular game) typically he centres Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren. You may have noticed when I last posted a scoring chances update, that McClement had the lowest rank on the Leafs. Per 20 minutes, the Leafs are being out-chanced approximately 4 to 2.
|NAME||Shifts starting in the D-Zone||D-Zone Starts per Game|
That’s a list of the centremen who start the most faceoffs in the defensive zone. Bergeron plays a tonne of minutes at either end, but McClement only gets to sniff the offensive zone when he plays a shift with Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren, who begin a higher ratio of shifts in the offensive zone than any other Leafs.
Here is McClement’s Corsi percentage (on-ice shot attempts that went the Leafs way) with and without certain Leafs:
|Time On Ice||Corsi %|
McClement is getting buried at his end on a good day. It’s funny to me that playing the toughest minutes in the league with Grabovski and Kulemin, almost predominantly starting in the defensive zone against scoring lines, the Leafs have a better puck-possession differential than when it’s McLaren and Orr starting in the offensive end of the ice.
So, even strength play is not how we should gauge McClement. He’s doing whatever it is his coach asks him to do, which involves 1) leading the PK and 2) playing bizarre, ineffective minutes at even strength rotating between competent and incompetent linemates.