Analyzing Toronto’s Game Score from December

Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY SPORTS

After every month of hockey, it’s good practice to take a look back and assess what happens. That’s my goal here with these posts analyzing the Leafs Game Score for each player for every month. You can find October’s here and November’s here.

For those unfamiliar with Game Score, it’s a single number stat meant to measure single game productivity and player value that I developed over the summer. It basically combines the most important box-score stats and weights them by their relevance to goals. It’s not perfect and there’s much that is unaccounted for, but it does pretty well for something that is relatively simple to compute and comprehend.

The sample is still incredibly small, but I figure taking a look at the team on a monthly basis could provide some insight into how the team is doing. So without further ado, here’s how the Leafs December looked through the eyes of Game Score and some thoughts on it.

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1. For the second straight month, Frederik Andersen has been the Leafs best player. He posted an astonishing .948 for the month, the best number among any starter last month. Somehow he only went 5-2-3 in those starts which is downright perplexing and a fault of the team in front of him in a few games where they struggled to score. Among all players in the league, Andersen had the fourth best Game Score and the first among goalies. Watch him get snubbed for the stars of the month because he didn’t get enough wins or something.

2. The number two guy on the list is the number one guy in our hearts. Auston Matthews is the truth and he had an incredible month for the team. Averaging close to four shots per game, he potted eight goals, twice as much as anyone else on the team and chipped in another four assists. Like Andersen, Matthews was also among the top players in the league finishing 28th overall and 8th among skaters on a per game basis.

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3. There is a gigantic divide between the top of the team and the bottom of them. There are 12 players above seven and then the next highest is at three. Their top three D were great, and almost their entire top nine too. They were the guys doing the damage for the Leafs in December and carrying the load. That leaves Leo Komarov, the lone top nine player that struggled this month, and then the usual suspects: the fourth line, third pair, and Connor Carrick who has done fine by shot rates, but has shown very little offensive flair lately. Some better contribution at the bottom of the lineup would go a long way.

4. The reason for the split? Pretty much all those guys at the bottom, aside from Carrick, were negative shot rate players last month, while the guys at the top, aside from Nylander, were all positive. The Leafs carry the run of play anytime their top guys are on, but get caved in when the bottom of the lineup rolls in. That’s not news, it’s been that way all season, it’s just a shame because it doesn’t have to be that way. See what Columbus has done with their fourth line for an example.

5. The top three lines though were really balanced this month though. The Matthews line was the best, mostly because Matthews was sensational, but the other two weren’t far off especially if you look at the shot rates where everyone seems to be around +20 for Corsi.

6. Funny enough, your Corsi leader for December was Tyler Bozak. In three less games too. He’s been really good this season in a sheltered scoring role between the Leafs two best wingers. And I guess he wins faceoffs too so that’s something. 

7. Jake Gardiner is finally getting top pair minutes and some offensive opportunity and would you look at that he’s crushing them. He’s been great this season and has arguably been the team’s best d-man and the coach is finally trusting him. Yeah, there’s still a few #JakeMoments, but they’re outweighed by all the good he does on the ice. His nine points for the month were actually second to only Matthews which I didn’t expect.

8. I’m not sure how Corsica generates its penalty differential numbers, but these seem a little crazy. The Leafs were -5 as a team for the month, but everyone here pretty much has a negative rate that doesn’t add up. Regardless, getting the calls hasn’t been a strength of this team lately, which is pretty strange because usually teams that have the puck a lot and are as fast as Toronto don’t have a negative penalty differential, but here we are…

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9. Going game-by-game now (chart at the bottom), and we’ve got some more Matthews craziness: not a single bad game the entire month and only one game that was fine. That means 11 of 12 were above 0.45. That’s pretty incredible. Not only has he been great, he’s been a consistent performer every single night. Even when he doesn’t get points he does the little things needed to win. 

10. On the flipside there’s Matt Martin… who is a different kind of consistent. Martin averaged 7.4 minutes last month, did very little in them, is taking a roster spot that can be better served by someone else, and gets to cash in $2.5 million this season as a result. Good for him I guess. 

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  • Stan Smith

    Like Corsi, it appears that the stats you compile also are determined by how much offence a player produces. Players like Martin, Polak and Hunwick, the third pairing you refer to, simply do not create offensive chances. But that is not why they are on the team. Polak and Hunwick are there to help the goalie prevent goals, something they do very well. The fact they are the lowest of the dmen, and positive players on GF%, despite the fact they produce very little defence speaks wonders for how well they so their job. You can also point to the fact that Andersen’s GAA is highest when this pair is on the ice 5 on 5. While they are middle of the road when killing penalties you can see an improvement lately in that area as well.

    Martin is there to play 4th line minutes, kill penalties, and provide some muscle when needed. It was interesting that Matthews referred to him being key in getting the Leafs going against the wings.

    • Jon

      I’d just like to point out that Corsi is not determined by offence, as you say. It shows the balance of shot attempts for and against, so a player who is very strong defensively and gives up few shots against could have as good a Corsi as a player who is very strong offensively and produces many shots for.

      • Stan Smith

        I disagree with you on that. Corsi is determined by shot attempts for vs shot attempts aginst. A defensive player does not usually create many shot attempts for, and doesn’t necessarily prevent shot attempts. He either blocks the shot attempts, or boxes out opposing players from the front of the net, allowing the shot, but also providing a direct sight line for the goalie to see it, and stop it. To me using Corsi to rate a defensive dman is akin to using it determine goaltending.

        • benjaminries

          Stan, it seems like you’re just rejecting the entire premise of Corsi, though – that low-chance, blocked, and missed shots still force the goalie to tense up and react, which wears down the goalie both mentally and physically, dragging on SV% over time (regardless of shot quality), etc. The corollary of this is that, all other players (forward and opposing) being equal, we would still rather have a defenseman who persuades or forces the other team to attempt fewer shots altogether – which may involve, for example, recovering and possessing the puck after the first or second shot attempt or rebound, instead of letting the opponent try a third, fourth, and fifth shot, etc. Even if most of those shots are from the outside, miss the net, or get blocked, some of us worry that eventually one gets through eh?

          Totally fair if you reject the underlying premise of Corsi, but I’m not sure how it is any more or less applicable to defensemen than forwards. One’s view of this underlying premise is as contestable as the meaning of “good defensive player”. Plenty of people would say that if the traditional consensus definition of good defense doesn’t lead to fewer overall shot attempts against, the modern definition should be changed to do so.

          • Stan Smith

            I’m not sure why Corsi has been universally accepted for being the “stat of stats”, and who decided it would determine possession, which it definitely doesn’t. It is shot attempts for and against, period. All shots count the same, whether they are actual scoring chances or not.

            Successful shot attempts for or against, or goals, as we call them, are relegated to junk status because +/- is determined by everyone on the ice. If that is the case unsuccessful shot attempts for and against should also fall under the same scrutiny.

            As for wear and tear on the goalie, rounding off the numbers, the average goalie faces 30 shots a game and 60 shot attempts, which translates to one shot every two playing minutes, and 1 attempt per minute. Not a strenuous amount, especially if the majority of them are not good scoring chances to start with.

            Ideally every NHL team would have 6 good all around dmen, that could contribute equally with offence and defence, but with the talent level out there that isn’t possible. So you have players that have strengths and weaknesses. Some are stronger offensively and weaker defensively and vice versa. I do fully understand the reasoning behind the idea that you can teach an offensively talented player to play defence, but you can’t teach a defensively strong player to play better offensively, but you still need some defensive experts, and by that I mean players that can block shots, be strong along the boards, and in front of the net.

            These players are not going to score well in Corsi because they do not create any offence whatsoever, but that is not what they are there for. They are there to kill penalties, and to play the heavy defensive minutes late in a period or game when you are up a goal or two. They are going to get almost exclusively defensive zone starts, which alone kills their Corsi rating. They are going to be the third pairing and they are going to play limited minutes, but they do have a role. Their Corsi is going to suck, but if they are successful, their goals against will be low, and the goalie playing behind them will have a higher save percentage because the good scoring chances will be minimized.

            At one time people that didn’t think Corsi was as good a stat as it was touted to be, were regarded as ignorant, and behind times. Now even numbers guys like truperformance are coming to the conclusion that
            Corsi has too many flaws to be an accurate measurement of performance, precisely because it does not rank the shot attempts.

          • benjaminries

            Yeah dude your critique is about Corsi generally, that’s my point. Also my point: your argument is equally applicable to forwards, who by your account could rack up amazing Corsi against ‘good’ d-men allowing crappy shot attempts that aren’t real scoring threats. Or could do so while being crappy forwards (again, by your standards) against ‘average’ Dmen.

            It just isn’t clear why we would think Corsi is relevant to forwards but selectively ignore it with certain d-men, since the stat treats attempts for and against the same. If preventing shot attempts isn’t a serious goal of defense, I can’t see why increasing shot attempts would be a serious goal of offense.

            Right? (I’m not trying to argue for or against Corsi generally, just making a narrower point).

  • Capt.jay

    Nice article Dom. Off topic however, can you or anyone else explain why Brooks was left off team Canada at the juniors? Same happened to Brown a few years back when he was tearing up the O.


  • tealeaves

    dom so tell me why did babcock, dubas and the best in the world leafs analytic team bring in martin? you sound like you know more then them but haven’t really said anything aside from a off the cuff slap in the face to martin and dismissal of bozak because he is good a faceoffs