The Leafs have played 10 games in October, and 10 in November. In October they had just one win and picked up 4 of a possible 20 points. In November they’ve so far won 6 games and have picked up 14 of a possible 20 points. So, they’re trending in the right direction…right? Well, not so fast. The Leafs are picking up a lot more points this month than they were last month, which is a good thing, but the way that they’ve been picking up those points is troubling. Whereas in October the team was playing well but finding a way to lose, the team is now putting in some really mundane performances but finding a way to win. In other words, yes they’ve done a complete 180 this month as far as how many points they’re picking up in the standings. But they’ve also done a complete 180 as far as their puck possession game is concerned, as well as how good the goaltending they’ve been getting is. In short, while the team is getting better end results, the way they’re getting those results isn’t good for their long-term success. Yep, I’ll say it: the Leafs need to go back to the way they were playing before.
The above table sums up what I mean. The point pace is much, much better. They’re still scoring at about the same clip – actually, they’re scoring at an even worse clip (at 5-on-5 anyways). The two big areas of concern are Corsi and their on-ice save percentage.
First of all, as is fairly obvious, those puck possession numbers need to go back up. For one thing, about 3 in 4 teams that are top 16 in the league in Corsi typically make the playoffs in an 82 game season. And as you can probably guess, a 44.7% Corsi isn’t going to get you into that group. Heck, combine the team’s puck possession numbers from each month and you get a 49.0% Corsi on the season, which currently sits 19th in the league (again, not good enough). And to put these numbers into perspective, the Leafs’ Corsi% last season was 46.4. The season before that, their Corsi% was 42.8. We all know how those seasons ended for Toronto. To have puck possession numbers back in that realm is not a good thing.
As far as the save percentage goes, isn’t this a good thing? Why should the Leafs be punished for having good goaltending? Well, sure, yes, it is a good thing to be getting good goaltending. However, no team in the advanced stats era has ever had a 5v5 save percentage over 82 games that was any higher than .941. In fact, the three highest 82-game 5v5 save percentages since 2005-2006 all belong to the Boston Bruins at .941, .940, and .940. Not that James Reimer can’t possibly put up similar numbers, but I would say it’s unlikely, given whatever voodoo the Bruins have used between Claude Julien, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Tim Thomas, and Tuukka Rask to put up those sorts of totals. Again, the bottom line here is just that while perhaps the Leafs can come somewhat close to sustaining their current level of goaltending for the rest of the season, it’s all but a certainty that they won’t match it pound for pound. James Reimer is a good goalie, but let’s be real: as good as he is, he’s not going to post a save percentage between .935 and .971 every single game, as he has for each of his past six appearances. I love the guy, but it’s just not going to happen.
So the Leafs need to get things sorted out a little bit. The puck possession numbers just aren’t good enough right now, and while the Leafs have a good goalie in James Reimer (and Bernier too, if he can get back to form at some point), these numbers can’t go on for the rest of the season. If the Leafs continue the poor puck possession play, it’s bound to catch up to them eventually. And as far as the goaltending goes, well, maybe they get strong goaltending the rest of the season, but it’s not going to be quite as strong as it has been the last three weeks. The nay-sayers will deduce this to more mathematical nonsense that clearly doesn’t have a grasp on the ups-and-downs that go on over the course of an NHL season. But they can shrug this off all they want; even though the Leafs are getting much better results this month, I’m sticking to my guns: the Leafs need to be better, or they’re not going to keep winning games.