Jerred Smithson has played 12 games with Toronto, averaged 10:19 and recorded exactly one shot on goal.
One month into the season, and the Leafs’ biggest struggle is offence. Anybody who saw that happening, raise your hand high into the air. No you didn’t. Put it down, you liar.
Toronto was 5th in the NHL in goals last season and their biggest strength is the amount of speed and skill they have on the wings. Another strength is the sheer number of quality puck-moving defenceman they employ, so it should be a little surprising that the team is tied for 14th in the NHL with 2.67 goals per game. Michael Traikos notes that the Leafs scored 1.92 goals per game in November. When you break it down further, the reason becomes a little more apparent.
Last night I looked at every team in the NHL and the number of goals they had from their six highest-scoring forwards. The data confirmed my hypothesis. The Leafs have 56 goals from Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Mason Raymond, Joffrey Lupul, Nazem Kadri and David Bolland, and just 16 from the rest of the lineup combined.
The Leafs are one of four teams in the NHL getting more than two goals from the top forward half of the lineup:
|GPG from six highest-scoring Fs|
|2. St. Louis||2.28|
|3. San Jose||2.27|
|4 others tied at||2.00|
On the flip side, if you look at depth players and the defence, the Leafs are dead last:
|GPG from rest of lineup|
|4. St. Louis||1.16|
|5. San Jose||1.15|
Now, I’m going to worry less about the “3” goals put up by the defence because they’re, as a whole, shooting 1.6% and that’s pretty low. Last year a similar group shot 5.4%, which seems like a much more reasonable percentage. The problem has been the other forwards. There’s been a sudden decrease of shots among the depth players. At 0.86 shots per game last year, the average bottom sixer is getting 0.68 shots this season. That doesn’t look like much, but it’s about 38 shots of difference over 27 games.
The Leafs are one of the highest scoring teams in the NHL if you only looked at the best players, and they are dead last if you looked at everybody else. I often have my complaints about the Colt Knorr’s and Jerred Smithson’s of the world derided in the comments because “they only play five minutes a game! They’re just energy guys! They aren’t supposed to score!” but the problem is when you set a lineup full of players that don’t shoot and score, you can’t act surprised when you don’t shoot and score goals.
Just by scanning a list of shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, I don’t see how the team can justify keeping Knorr and Smithson in the lineup in favour of Peter Holland or Trevor Smith and Carter Ashton. I think Nik Kulemin and Jay McClement are also past the point where they should be guaranteed an every day roster spot.
Right now, with the team struggling to score and the coaching staff whining every day about how few shots the team is getting, maybe it’s a good idea to mix up the fourth line and put hockey players on it? Realistically, you can’t have a fourth line full of 15-to-20-goal players, but you should expect about five, be happy on the rare occasions you’ll get 10, and you certainly shouldn’t plan for “zero”. That’s what the Leafs have resigned themselves to do by tossing Knorr out there every night instead of Smith or Holland.
The top six is doing fine. They don’t need the added spark. They just need support.