Leaflets: Invincible no more, Carlyle’s systems under pressure

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 camcharron@gmail.com. 

So what’s our gripe this week? Breakouts and penalty kill? Breakout and penalty kill it is. 

First I want to talk penalty kill. Jonas Siegel in the Leaf Report mentioned this:

Over the past 11 games – a stretch that began at the outset of November – the Leafs have allowed 13 power play goals, hovering at just 71 per cent in that span. Already this season, they’ve given up 20 power play goals or one more than all of last season.

The sure-fire attitude once owned by the group has gradually taken a hit.

“That’s a confidence we’re going to have to build back up over a big stretch of games here,” said McClement, who leads the NHL in average ice-time shorthanded. “It seems like we have a couple good kills and we start to get it, start to build on it and then we give one up. [It’s] something we just have to stick with and try not to lose all our confidence and get frustrated with it.” 

There are more games in an 82-game season than a 48-game season, sure, but the Leafs have already allowed more powerplay goals against this year than last. That’s five allowed in the last two games. Not to say this wasn’t a concern. Just nine games into the season, I brought up the PK as an area of possible concern. The team was killing PKs at a very high rate, but still allowing waaaay more shots than they were last season.

Again… when you go from 5th in shots against on the PK (and were very successful) to 27th from one season to the next, I don’t care about the quality of attempts. There’s enough of a change to make me think something is completely wrong with the PK this year. It’s not just injuries—they’ve been just as bad even though Nik Kulemin and Mark Fraser have returned to the lineup.

Worse breakouts than the 10th graders working the deep fryer at Dairy Queen

The second problem is the breakout. Siegel and James Mirtle mentioned on the Leaf Report podcast this week how much pressure is put on players that aren’t traditional two-way players to play a two-way game, but the best breakdown of the Leafs season so far comes from Gus Katsaros over at Maple Leafs Hot Stove:

The Leafs struggle to move the puck out leads to an exceptional amount of zone time and sustained pressure indicative of their suspect possession stats, a clearly undesired element. I believe that this actually starts in the neutral zone.

At the beginning of the season, they played forwards a little deeper in the zone and clumped up to the point that they were an easy target for forecheckers. More recently, forwards are stretched out a bit further out into the neutral zone, attempting to move the puck out of the zone easier with long stretch passes. That, in turn, creates gaps that introduce additional risk. The Pittsburgh Penguins have a similar problem with an immobile blueline aside from Kris Letang, exploited by the Boston Bruins in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals, but this isn’t about the Penguins.

If you haven’t read the post yet, go do so now. Gus is great at ascribing to pictures and Xs and Os, things that we’ve been complaining about all year and haven’t been able to quantify or qualify one way or another.

Right now, the Leafs game depends on not turning the puck over, and hoping that goalies stop every shot from the outside. What’s interesting is that per Gus, the Marlies employ a similar defensive system, but their shot ratios are much, much better compared to the rest of the AHL than the Leafs’ are compared to the NHL. In fact, the Toronto AHLs are 5th in the league in shot differential through two periods (a method that eliminates most of the score effects).

When the system is working, you’re going to break out, presumably, quicker and more effectively, and that’s going to show in the possession metrics.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Thanks for the tip on the Katsaros piece. Certainly helps explain what looks like a basic paradox: in their own zone, the Leafs play an exhaustingly passive game. If you are going to be passive, it should be to conserve energy to spring out with speed. But when it doesn’t work, it makes for more work.

    Katsaros describes it as the accordion effect — of forwards relentlessly scrambling from their corners around the net to the perimeter. As a group, they play so boxed deep to force the puck around the perimeter that they have great difficulty claiming control.

    No wonder they play tired in the second half of a game. By the time they do get the puck, they just go for the clear, scramble to change lines, and allow their opponent to regroup and reenter.

    One thing’s clear: they are playing a system.