“TOR: 13-0-0 when leading after 1st period this season.”
TSN displayed those words during a Leafs game earlier this year, in which the Leafs were leading the Devils after the first period. I have always dismissed stats like this one because I do not believe they provide us with much insight beyond “scoring goals is a recipe for success.” And then I had an idea. Well, it was more of a question which inspired an idea: How Important is Winning a Period in the NHL? I wrote that article for QSAO last week explaining how I quantified the importance of winning a specific period in the NHL, using data from Moneypuck.com.
“But how does this effect the Leafs,” you ask? That is the question I will answer today, but before doing so I would like to summarize the results from the main article. However, I still encourage you to spend five minutes reading that article now if you have yet to do so. Reading it will provide you with the necessary background to interpret the Leafs results specifically.
The money chart from that article is the table below:
Each value is the average number of standings points that NHL teams earned in that particular scenario. For example, a team playing at home who won the first period earned an average of 1.65 standings points from those games alone; The losing team in those specific games came away with an average of 0.54 standings points. Keep in mind that these numbers cover games between the 2007-08 and 2017-18 seasons, so the Leafs results will include not only the first two seasons of the Matthews era, but nine seasons before that as well. The sample also excludes playoff games, which is perhaps not an important detail to mention here considering the average Leafs team over these eleven seasons missed the postseason entirely.
“How does it effect the Leafs?”
I made the same table as shown above, but for Leafs games only. Then I made a viz showing the differences between the Leafs and the average team. Spoiler alert: it ain’t pretty.
Bear in mind that you should interpret the first table as the results for a theoretical average team, but this new table illustrates results for the Leafs — a real team. This distinction is important because of sample sizes. In the previous table, the home team winning period 1 occurs as many times as the away team loses period 1. This makes sense because, in any game, the home team is playing against the away team. This new table is different because the Leafs cannot play against the Leafs. While the Leafs earned 1.59 standings points from games in which they won period 1 at home, their opponents did not earn 0.45 standings points from those games — the Leafs earned those points too, but they did it in a totally different set of games. That’s another reason I recommended reading the main article, where I interpreted the results as the performance of a theoretical “average” team. While the average team cannot play against themselves, we can measure their results in different scenarios. The Leafs results should be interpreted in the same way, except the Leafs are a real NHL team.
For those of you wondering, here are the sample sizes for the Leafs:
It is pretty obvious from these samples that the Leafs were terrible; The numbers in the “Loss” columns are always higher than the numbers in the corresponding “Wins” columns. And if you have been paying close attention, you may have noticed how consistently awful the Leafs results are compared to league average. For example, we know that whenever the Leafs won the second period at home, they earned around 1.60 points in the standings. We also know from the first table that the average team earned 1.67 points in home games that saw them win the second period. Altogether, the Leafs are 0.07 points below average under that condition. The viz below illustrates those comparisons for all 18 scenarios. Each dot is the Leafs (table #2 in this article) and the end of each line is league average (table #1 in this article).
The Leafs were below average in all but two scenarios: Tying period 2 at home (+0.01) and losing period 3 at home (+0.02). To the best of my knowledge, we cannot draw any conclusions from those two scenarios. The main takeaway, although it is unsurprising, is that the Leafs were very bad for a very long time, and it shows in these numbers. The largest difference between the Leafs and league average is tying the third period at home — the Leafs find themselves 0.19 standings points below average. The implication is that if the Leafs tied the third period in five home games, they’d end up almost an entire standings point below the average team. Just from five games. That’s a huge difference.
Fortunately, the Leafs are much better now than they were before. With the additions of Matthews, Marner, Nylander, and some dude same John Tavares, the Leafs are surely rising back up towards league average and beyond. I was tempted to calculate the Leafs results in the Matthews-era only, but then I realized the sample sizes were way too small. Even looking at the Leafs over eleven seasons is probably pushing it. For what it’s worth, the Leafs record that I quoted at the very beginning of this article is no longer 13-0-0… it’s now 19-1-0 this season. While the stat does not specify which games were played at home or away, records that good are difficult even under the easiest conditions. Let’s hope it’s a sign of things to come.