With the reports of defenceman Jake Gardiner returning tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning, there will be a prominent improvement when the team gets on the man advantage for the rest of his time with the team.
The main narrative about the powerplay currently is a massive underperformance. Jake Muzzin, Gardiner’s replacement on the second unit, has not been able to reach the same level of performance that was previously existent.
With Gardiner on the ice, the Leafs have an unblocked shot attempt rate of 76.22 per 60 minutes, while Muzzin’s presence results in only 69.39. That number is the lowest of any Leafs defenceman that has more than a couple minutes on the ice.
Since March 1st, the Leafs have only scored a total of eight powerplay goals, while they have had 37 opportunities and 68:21 TOI. While the actual advantage has been just average (21.6%), the amount of actual key scoring chances they were able to generate was on a decline.
Their most successful game on the man advantage during that stretch without Gardiner was when they were able to generate 1.13 expected goals in just four minutes on the powerplay against the Ottawa Senators on March 16th.
While in terms of the whole season, they have the highest rate of expected goals among all teams on the powerplay. Generating 9.26 xG/60 all season long — the next best are the Calgary Flames with 7.85 xGF/60. The Leafs are able to get better chances and much more of them at 5v4 and Gardiner is a big part of that on the second unit.
Gardiner is an elite powerplay contributor and worlds apart than what Muzzin has been this season. The only unfortunate aspect of his production is the forwards in front of him.
His powerplay goals for is below league average and that is mainly because the Leafs decided to load-up their first unit to an extreme point. It’s no surprise that production is low when Tyler Ennis is out there with the defenceman.
At this point of the season, the Leafs desperately need some sort boost in their offensive production. Before heading into a contentious playoff series with their mental rivals, returning to the powerhouse prowess that they were hyped up to be can push them to be the rightful team to win the series.
His absence has not been any more evident than this past month. The blueline and overall, the team, has been exposed to their weaknesses that some teams have taken advantage of. Whether his return will suddenly make everyone feel the same way they did at the beginning of the season is still to be seen, but there is no doubt that Gardiner makes this team, specifically on the powerplay, much better.
Compared to where they have been without him, there is the distant hope that two regular season games are enough to get back that juggernaut feeling.
-data via Evolving Hockey and Natural Stat Trick –