The Leafs are taking too many penalties

The big news, I guess, is that Dion Phaneuf is facing a hearing for his hit on Kevan Miller at the conclusion of the Sunday game against Boston. While the Leafs were lucky enough that Nazem Kadri was suspended for a series of games that included Buffalo twice and the New York Islanders, the Maple Leafs can ill-afford to play Los Angeles and St. Louis without their top defenceman. So this could get interesting.

Onto other things:

I wasn’t able to watch most of the Saturday game with sound, but I heard CBC’s David Amber set up the game when the teams were skating onto the ice. He mentioned that the Ottawa Senators had been shorthanded more than any team in hockey. That can’t be disputed, but it should be worth pointing out that the Senators (as of Monday morning) are fourth in the league in powerplay opportunities while the Toronto Maple Leafs are 28th.

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In every game preview, I have a little chart that has a few rate stats: Corsi Close%, 5-vs-5 scoring, PDO, some special team stuff, and also penalty differential. The Leafs have recently overtaken Ottawa for the worst penalty differential in the league, and as of Monday morning, they’re very clear of the Senators. The Sens have 15 fewer powerplays than times shorthanded, while the Maple Leafs have 25 fewer.

It’s not hard to see exactly where the problem is. The Leafs have been shorthanded 122 times, more than anybody but Philadelphia and the Sens. After yesterday’s debacle against Boston, the Leafs have conceded more powerplay goals against than any other team. Despite the killer powerplay, which has been the best part of the team, the Leafs have a minus-3 goal differential in special team situations.

Last season, they were +9 in special teams goal differential (tallying up powerplay goals, shorthanded goals, and subtracting powerplay goals against and shorthanded goals against).

The worst part is, while everybody and their dog was predicting the Leafs would get out-shot often at even strength, there was no reason to think the penalty kill would go in the tank. Last year the Leafs were 5th in preventing shots 4-on-5, allowing 41.7 per 60 minutes. More impressive than the 87.9% penalty kill was that they did that without a huge boost from their goaltenders, unlike this year. At the start of the season the team was preventing powerplay goals despite giving up over 60 shots per 60 on the PK, as of Monday they’re back to 62.4, at 26th in the league.

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But it’s not necessarily rates what it comes down to, it’s raw numbers. It doesn’t matter if you have a high penalty kill rate if you’re shorthanded for the whole game, and part of the Leafs’ problems is that they’re shorthanded way more than they’re on the powerplay. What matters is the goals you give up, and the Leafs gave up just 19 in 48 games last year. There was no indicator that they wouldn’t have a top five PK in the league again.

Now, the Leafs PK is 26th in the league, but they’ve also given up 28 goals against on the PK, more than any other team. That’s the problem, more than the shots against per 60. It’s just the absolute number of penalties the team has taken that’s not given them any chance to right the ship.

Since the start of November, the Leafs have earned 50 powerplays and taken 69 penalties. Taking three against Boston helped, but they didn’t shut down the Bruins. On average, an NHL team is shorthanded just 3.4 times per game. The Leafs are at 4.1 since November began, or an extra penalty every two games.

Behind the Net is a good place to find penalties drawn and taken individually (and last year’s, for comparative purposes). Paul Ranger is one of the chief offenders at 1.5 penalties taken per 60 minutes. Before he got hurt, David Bolland took eight penalties and didn’t draw any. Dion Phaneuf is taking 1.2 last year versus 0.8 last year. Nazem Kadri was drawing 3.0 minors per 60 minutes last year, and now he’s down to 2.1… and he’s also taking 1.6 this year versus 0.7 last year.

So… this is something. Moreso than fixing the penalty kill, the easiest way to not give up powerplay goals against is to not take penalties. This isn’t an issue with refereeing or anything, it’s just a problem with lazy defensive plays and players coached to be more aggressive than the rulebook permits in 2014.

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  • STAN

    I love numbers, but my eyes tell me that only a few Leafs keep their feet moving during their 50 second shifts. t’s as though most of them can’t pump legs, handle puck and think at the same time.

    You draw penalties when you’re moving and retrieving pucks, not mindlessly pinning guys up against the boards with your stick in the air… and in one hand.

    Meantime, the penalty kill has reverted to the instant, collapsed square that teams that passing, moving and creative teams will destroy in no time. Carlyle should make these guys watch tape of the Canucks or red WIngs aggressive PK in which they are always mindful of not just where the puck is, but where it’s going… and then send two guys after that puck.

    When Phaneuf has to sit for a couple or three games, I have a feeling the back end will be far better off. I equate him to the Raps Rudy Gay – highest paid guy, so team feels obliged to play him despite evidence he’s just not that good or effective.

    We shall see.

    • STAN

      I don’t really see what you have against Phaneuf. Sure, he may not be the ideal number one d-man for the ideal team, but i really don’t see how you can say that any other d-man on the leafs is an overall better d-man than Phaneuf right now, maybe in a few years, but for now, Phaneuf is the best we have.

  • Jeremy Ian

    Cam’s words:

    “Moreso than fixing the penalty kill, the easiest way to not give up powerplay goals against is to not take penalties. This isn’t an issue with refereeing or anything, it’s just a problem with lazy defensive plays and players coached to be more aggressive than the rulebook permits in 2014.”

    Precisely. Adjust.

  • Jeremy Ian

    100% agree with you for once Cam and I’ve been saying this for a while. Also Carlyle has been saying this for a while and the team doesn’t stop taking penalties.

  • STAN

    Taking lots of penalties is a by-product of chasing the other team… being constantly on the defensive.

    It’s easy to say that the players should simply “take less penalties”, but there’s a deeper issue at hand… and it’s either the coach’s system or the players.

    It would be nice if Carlyle can go on LTIR for the next 10 games so we can see which one it is 🙂