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, November’s here, December’s here and January’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 February looked through the eyes of Game Score and some thoughts on it.
1. Perhaps unbelievably, this is the first month where Auston Matthews has led the team in Game Score. He came second in October, fourth in November, second in December, and fourth in January. His consistency all season has been so impressive. This wasn’t even his best month of the season, but it was a bit of a down one for the rest of the team so that makes sense.
2. The big month comes in conjunction with more icetime with William Nylander, unsurprisingly. He comes in at number two here and was near point-per-game for the month. This is right on the heels of some silly and excessive trade rumours near the start of 2017. I doubt there’ll be many more of those going forward.
3. If there was a goal against the Leafs at 5-on-5 in February, you better believe Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev were on the ice for it. It’s been an absolutely brutal stretch for that pair and while plus-minus is far from the be-all end-all, it’s interesting to note from a descriptive perspective. This likely won’t continue going forward, but there’s no doubt they’ve been bad.
4. In their absence, Jake Gardiner really stepped up though. He had nine points in 14 games and was the engine that drove the team this month. He looked like the number one d-man this team has been missing all season. When he was on the ice good things happened. Just like with the top pair, plus-minus isn’t everything, but seeing Gardiner lead the team by a wide margin is very interesting to see and has to tear some traditionalists up inside.
5. Since we’re tearing groups down, might as well take some shots at The Computer Boys. We all want the Hunlak pairing to disappear, but they were actually pretty decent this month, and by decent I mostly mean competent and not a tire fire like usual. They had a really good six-to-eight game stretch in the middle of the month though they slowed down near the end. Really nice to see from them.
6. But not all nightmares have happy endings. The fourth line was still really, really bad, easily the worst of any line this month. That’s not saying much really, but it wasn’t even that close. They’ve had better games with Brian Boyle in the lineup, so that’s good at least, but man it was ugly to watch. Matt Martin is a great guy, and I get his “role”, but there’s nights where he can sit out and that was evident a lot in February.
7. The biggest reason it became evident was the top story of the month: Josh Leivo. The kid sat all season, comes into the lineup thanks to a Nikita Soshnikov injury and proceeds to absolutely crush it. Nine points in 10 games to go with a plus-25 Corsi and a decent individual shot rate.
8. My question is how did it take so long to get this kid in the lineup? Sure, there’s some defensive deficiencies, but c’mon. You can’t tell me he’s the 13th best forward on this team. And now he’s back out again, and I just don’t see how that’s justifiable given the way he’s played.
9. James van Riemsdyk went through a lengthy goal drought this month, but his play still looked pretty strong throughout. He was definitely one of the more consistently good players from the month. Leo Komarov also had a pretty good end to the month after some very questionable play for most of the season.
10. There have been two stretches were players had five straight “great” games according to Game Score and they both happened this month. Well, Mitch Marner’s had one of those games in January, but he continued that torrid pace into February. Then there was Kadri’s mid-month stretch where he averaged a tidy 1.6 Game Score over five games. Not bad and the reason for his big month here.