Looking At The Leafs Through The Eyes Of Game Score

The best and worst games played by a Leaf last season were both by Jonathan Bernier. They were played within eight days of each other. On December 29, Bernier let in six goals on 15 shots (and got pulled) against the Islanders in a 6-3 loss. On January 6th, he stopped all 39 shots he faced against the Ducks in a 4-0 Leafs win.

The first game earned a Game Score of -3.6 – one of the worst for any player all season – while the other was worth 3.9. For most of the year he was above water, but it was a roller coaster of highs and lows for Bernier. That one week was the apex.

You’re probably wondering what Game Score is at this point. It’s a stat I stole from basketball that attempts to measure a player’s performance in a single game using every basic stat we hold near and dear to our hearts: goals, assists, shots, blocks, faceoffs, penalties, and 5-on-5 on-ice differentials for Corsi and Goals. You can read more about it here.

What I wanted to do with this post was take a basic look at the Leafs 2015-16 season through the lens of this new stat, as well as look at some historic games played – well, historic in the BehindTheNet era, at least.

2015-16

We’ve already got the best game out of the way, but that was a goalie’s work. The best player game belongs to William Nylander’s three-point effort on March 21 where he was also +10 in Corsi, +3 in goals while getting four shots on net, good for a Game Score of 3.6. It was one of only five player games that registered above three, two of which were by Tyler Bozak.

For games above two (excluding goalies), Bozak was fourth on the team with six, a tie with P.A. Parenteau and behind Leo Komarov (7) and Nazem Kadri (8). As far as big performances went this season, those four were the ones who brought it.

Perhaps a bit more fun are the worst games. A pretty esteemed group holds the bottom three games for the year: Roman Polak (-1.3), Matt Hunwick (-1.1) and Nick Spaling (-1). All three did mostly nothing while racking up a Corsi of -18 or higher during those nights while Polak also was -3 in 5-on-5 goals. 

The leader for games below zero is surprisingly none of those three but is, in fact, another guy who did essentially nothing a lot: Michael Grabner. He earned a negative Game Score in 26 of his 80 games played for the Leafs, which is Not Great.

Despite that, Grabner wasn’t the worst Leaf for the season. His average Game Score for the year was 0.27, which isn’t great, but at least it wasn’t last. Here’s how every Leaf did by this stat last season along with an NHL-wide ranking for context. (It should be noted that the full-season version shown here uses score/zone/venue adjusted on-ice differentials instead of the raw totals).

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James van Riemsdyk was having an excellent season before he got hurt, while Nylander was proving very capable at the NHL-level. Kadri had a decent season that ranked within the top 90 for forwards (a first line level), and that was despite sporting a way too-bad-to-be-true shooting percentage for most of the year. With some better puck luck next year he could have a monster year in 2016-17. On the back-end, Dion Phaneuf turns up surprisingly well, while Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly look very solid.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the team lowlights from last season. Hunwick was truly awful for most of the season playing way above his head, registering an average Game Score of 0.08 for the season, one of the worst marks in the entire league. Somehow, it wasn’t even the worst on the team. That honour goes to Nick Spaling at 0.07. I’m still not sure how either player got the minutes they did last season, in all honesty.

Historic Games

Considering how brutal this team was for most of the last decade, and the godly goaltending they’ve needed to get victories, I doubt this list of best Leafs games will be all too surprising. 

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There were 32 games above 3.5 since 2007-08, and James Reimer owns eight of them, Bernier has five, Ben Scrivens has one, and two goalies that shall not be named have one apiece. That’s half the list dominated by goaltending, with eight of the top 10 games going to goalies (five by Reimer alone).

On four different occasions, Reimer has faced 49 or 50 shots, and he managed to stop all but three in those four games. Very rarely was he appreciated for literally saving this team’s butt night in and night out. The fact that he pretty much owns this list is a testament to how huge he was in Toronto during his tenure here.

To go even further, here’s a list of players with the most games above three during this time frame:

James Reimer: 17

Phil Kessel: 12

Jonathan Bernier: 9

Alexei Ponikarovsky: 8

Tyler Bozak: 6

No one’s all that close to Reimer. When the Leafs needed him, he came up big a lot and should be appreciated more for his play during his time here.

Back to the list of best games, another under-appreciated player pops up a few times, and that’s Jason Blake. I don’t recall him ever being very popular as a Leaf, mostly due to the high expectations that came with signing after scoring 40 goals, but he had some great games for the club here. Three of the top eight player games belong to Blake, and his best is second only to a 49 save shutout. 

Conclusion

So that’s Game Score from a Leafs perspective. It’s important to look at new stats from the context of what you’re familiar with and for me, it’s the team I probably pay attention to most. 

A lot of the best player performances are ones I remember watching, and it’s interesting to rate those games against each other. If I had to think of the best performance personally it probably would’ve been one of those “Reimer Steals One” games, and it’s cool to see how high those all rank.

As for the 2015-16 stats, I think they’re a pretty accurate portrayal of who played best last year as far as a total value stat goes. It’s not perfect, and I doubt everyone will agree with how every player is rated, but I think for the most part it’s pretty spot on.