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Photo Credit: © Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

A study in PDO, or why you should calm the hell down about the Leafs

The Leafs haven’t been very good to start the year, at least not up to their standards. They’ve won as many games as they’ve lost, and each of their four losses have been what seemed like, at some point or another, winnable games. They’ve held the lead at least once in every game so far this season, but in cLaSsIc LeAfs fashion, they’ve only been able to win half of those.

But with 31 goals through those eight games, the Leafs have once again come out of the gate with one of the league’s best offences. So why aren’t they 8-0?

I don’t have all the answers, but I’ll try to hazard a guess at a few of them.

We’ll use a couple metrics in this one to try to break down exactly what’s going on here.

PDO is one of the easiest advanced stats to understand. It’s simply combining a team’s save percentage and shooting percentage, with a league average of exactly 100. Higher is better, lower is worse. The theory behind PDO generally goes – you want to be above average, but straying too far above 100 is usually the sign that your team is in for a rude awakening. No team can rely on fantastic goaltending forever, and no team can shoot the lights out for too long. Sometimes a team goes a PDO bender of sorts for a month, two, even a full season, but eventually, what’s often referred to as unsustainable hockey is just that: unsustainable.

I’ve created a couple charts comparing this season to the three prior ones in Mike Babcock’s tenure as a Leafs’ coach. For obvious reasons, the tanking season of 2015-16 has been omitted.

To simplify matters, all the percentages are listed out of 100 with one decimal point, (instead of save percentage being listed as “.xxx” out of 1.000). I’m not sure what the conventional method these days is to get to the PDO end result, but you can likely all understand this just fine, so let’s just move on.

PDO, 2016-17-present

 5v5 Save % 5v5 Shooting % 5v5 PDO All Strengths Save % All Strengths Shooting % All Strengths PDO
2016-17 92.3 8.2 100.6 91.3 9.5 100.8
2017-18 92.8 9.0 101.9 91.7 10.2 101.9
2018-19 92.4 9.5 101.9 90.8 10.4 101.3
2019-20 88.5 8.7 97.3 89.11 11.19 100.3

Overall, this first chart should be pretty easy to infer a few things from:

  • This year’s all strengths PDO is, well, just average. Considering they’ve won as many games as they’ve lost, that sounds about right.
  • This year’s Leafs are shooting quite well overall, but more so at everything but even strength. It’s not an alarmingly bad difference than usual at 5v5, and higher than their rate in 2016-17. But the difference between a good and great team is often their ability to move the needle higher than expected, and this team’s been just okay so far in that regard.
  • Goaltending, not really surprisingly, has been quite bad. We’ll get back to that.

A bonus oddity from this year: The Leafs have a save percentage of 88.2 on the penalty kill. That’s only slightly worse than their 5v5 save percentage, which is both encouraging and discouraging at the same time.

Going hand in hand with shooting and save percentages is, well, quantity of shots. I’ve used a few metrics here: 5v5 Corsi For (shot attempts) both for and against per 60 minutes at 5v5, (as well as an overall percentage), and then also come out with a more basic shots for and against per game. Again, we’re looking at the 2016-17- present time frame.

Shooting, 2016-17-present

5v5 CF/60 5v5 CA/60 5v5 CF% All Strengths Shots for/game All Strengths Shots against/game All Strengths SF%
2016-17 59.49 58.96 50.39 31.9 32.6 49.47
2017-18 58.8 59.2 49.8 32.2 33.9 48.3
2018-19 64.58 60.26 51.73 33.4 33.1 50.17
2019-20 68.17 55.17 55.27 34.6 31.0 52.76

Admittedly, it’s just an 8 game sample. But the crux of the Leafs (i.e., everyone but the goalie) of this season have looked better on paper, than, well, any other coached by Mike Babcock in Toronto. There are of course, other ways to measure a hockey team and other ways to criticize individuals on this roster. But as a whole, well, it’s hard to disagree with the process.

So what can we conclude?

This wasn’t really a long post, but more of an eye-opening one. It’s easy to hate their results, but as we can tell, the Leafs are likely better than their record shows.

There are of course things to tinker with and it won’t be an easy go with John Tavares out of the lineup, but for now, it should really only be a matter of time before the Leafs start stringing together some W’s if they keep playing in a similar way.