Collecting and commenting on the major stories surrounding the Maple Leafs as recounted by friendly members of the mainstream media and bloggers. If you have a story you’d like to have featured, sent me an email at email@example.com.
One of the big mysteries over the past week has been Phil Kessel’s injury-slash-sickness. Kessel was held out of practice on Monday and the Leafs said he’d been a little sick. On Tuesday, Kessel was spotted with his right (lower) wrist taped in his two-goal game against the New York Islanders.
If there was ever any clue that something is ailing Phil, it was the Thursday game against Nashville. The Leafs were down by two goals at two separate points during the period and needed some offence, but Kessel played just six shifts and 6:13. Almost a third of that was in the final shift of the game.
I noted in the recap that Kessel’s 15:27 of ice time had been the lowest he’s played in a loss since March 19, 2012. That game, however, was 8-0 for the Boston Bruins so it’s understandable that the Leafs would have kept their best players on the bench with the game well decided. Back on October 23, 2010, Kessel played 14:18. Who really knows why, but the point is, with the Leafs chasing, Kessel does not play 15 minutes. He averages 18:52 in wins this season and 19:06 in losses.
“It has gotten to the point where even a case of the flu cannot be accepted as just the flu,” Sean Fitz-Gerald wrote in the National Post in his good summary of the Leafs injury issues so far this season. “The injury concerns are valid, if only because so many have been validated by the Leafs this season.”
Remember for a while, Tyler Bozak was in the lineup, and then he suddenly stopped being in the lineup, with a dip in his ice-time occurring just before he was held out of the lineup.
Despite the injuries, Chris Johnston at Sportsnet mentioned that the Leafs have been “in triage mode since the puck dropped in Montreal on Oct. 1” which is a nice way of putting it. While Toronto has had some success filling holes in the lineup with minor league call-ups (Trevor Smith has probably been better than anybody could have expected) it really has been the goaltending that’s held the team together.
The only thing the Leafs can truly hang their hat on so far is excellent goaltending. Whether it’s been Bernier or James Reimer between the pipes, Toronto is getting more saves than any team in the entire NHL.
On Tuesday night, Bernier got his pad on an in-close chance from Josh Bailey before kicking out a leg to deny Kyle Okposo on a second-period power play. That allowed the team to stay ahead and eventually build on a 1-0 lead that landed in its lap when Trevor Smith scored just 22 seconds in.
Rush Rush Rush Rush Rush Everybody
Nashville coach Barry Trotz mentioned prior to his team’s game against the Leafs that the Leafs “strength is really the rush, transition game… they’re tynamic… We’ve got to control a couple aspects of their game.” You can see where a quick strike offence like the Leafs’ would be frustrating for the opposition. The Leafs spend several minutes in their own end hanging on with good goaltending, before a quick strike and a breakdown ends the threat.
not norm ullman over at Pension Plan Puppets had a great Fanpost breaking down the way that the Leafs scored. This was prior to the game against the Islanders, but check it out: “we have just 4 (four) Even-Strength goals, from: dump-ins, the cycle game, hard-forechecking, going to the dirty areas, just putting shots on net, point shots, punching down, and all the other stuff we hear about endlessly from the experts.”
“Meanwhile, one single approach, one tactic, one style, one system has generated a whooping 21 goals for us this year.”
So that’s 21 goals off the rush at evens. This is just confirming what we already knew, that Toronto is excellent at counter-attacking. Even the goals against the Islanders and Predators were generated from speed in the neutral zone.
Worth noting… from counting up zone entries this season (we mark a little asterisk next to two-on-ones and breakaways) the Leafs haven’t had significantly more than the opposition has this season, but they are doing a better job at scoring on those.
Just shoot the damn puck and don’t worry about who is counting what
Goals are a little unpredictable… shots on goal are not. Thanks to Darren Dreger for being the zillionth person to attempt to justify why teams shouldn’t look at shot counts when evaluating themselves:
Dreger “when I look at the event summary of any team from the night before, I’m not worried about the shots but the giveaway one stands out”
— Hope_Smoke (@Hope_Smoke) November 22, 2013
Dreger “the shot count could be misleading depending on the arena but giveaways are a worrisome number”
— Hope_Smoke (@Hope_Smoke) November 22, 2013
Dreger’s not the first media guy to mention this recently. mc79hockey already made this point on his blog, but evidently, not enough people actually believe that there are enough shots taken in a game that the differences even themselves out. Dave Nonis suggested that stats are “polluted” by differences between buildings.
This is from last season in score close situations. I looked at a team’s home shot differential and compared to the road differential in the 2012-2013 season:
The r-squared value was 0.45. That’s significant. A value of 1.00 implies perfect correlation, and 0.00 implies none. There’s a pretty noticeable trend “if you’re getting a lot of shots at home, you’re also getting a lot on the road”.
Hell, it’s a heck of a lot more noticeable than goals:
r-squared = 0.06.
As long as we’re talking about variability between buildings, can we mention that some arenas track goals at a higher rate than others? I mean last year the NHL counted 156 goals in Calgary, but just 99 in Ottawa. We’ll probably have to sort those in-arena differences out before we decide whether “goals” is a viable stat going forward.
Leafs ink their prospects
Finally, the Leafs commit to Matt Finn earlier this week, and today it was the Ontario Hockey League’s leading scorer:
Leafs sign prospect Connor Brown to a three-year entry level deal. He’s leading the OHL in scoring right now with two points a game.
— James Mìrtle (@mirtle) November 22, 2013
Before we get too excited about Brown, keep in mind he’s in his Draft +2 year, and players that spend that extra year in junior don’t step into the NHL right away (check out the career arc of last year’s OHL leading scorer Nick Cousins). In fact, you’d have to go back to 2005 to find the last 19-year-old that led the OHL before going onto a prominent NHL role: Corey Perry, and that was during the lockout year.
Still, Brown has turned out to be a late-round pick that at least looks like he has a shot, which is more you can say than about a lot of late round picks. The other interesting case is Niagara’s Carter Verhaeghe: fifth in scoring, a Draft +1, and he doesn’t get to play with Connor McDavid.