Steely Dan’s 1972 single “Do It Again” details a man who is constantly screwing things up – first with violence, then with women, and finally with money. The chorus belts “You go back, Jack, do it again” – pointing to the surety of more destruction that lay in Jack’s path. It is a proper metaphor for the Leafs playoff performance to date, perhaps with different vices. When it comes down to it, the Leafs have played four close series in which they have failed to secure the big goals necessary for a clinching win. This post will highlight this history at a high level, while avoiding any definite conclusions about the skill and character of the team, which I’ll leave to other writers.
Displayed below is the entire Leafs playoffs history of the new-era Leafs (2016-17 and on) – showcasing the Corsi and Expected Goals percentages metrics for each game. Overall, their matchups have been pretty close – the charts on the left illustrate their shot metrics as a percentage and show most games being pretty close to a 50/50 split. The charts on the right show the actual differentials – how many more shots/xG they had above/below their opponent. Again they played a lot of close games where the differences likely came down to a big goal or a big save that made the difference.
There are differences by series of note – the Washington and Columbus series had a narrower range of differentials – besides Game 2 against Columbus, the chances were shared pretty equally by both teams. For both series against Boston, as well all remember, there were more extreme results in terms of chances. In 2018, the Leafs played pretty well in Game 3 before getting smoked in Game 4. The following year, the Leafs played some close games before some poor xG results in Games 6 & 7.
All in all, the Leafs controlled Corsi in only 10 of their 25 playoff games, and controlled Expected Goals in only 9 of their 25 playoff games. While there will always be up and down games, as well as things like score effects that impact the usability of these metrics, the Leafs haven’t done enough to control play in these games. Coupled with a few poor or unlucky shooting results, including some great goaltending against Columbus, and a few soft goals from Freddie Andersen at bad times, it isn’t enough to get it done in the playoffs.
Taking a look at the most recent series against Columbus, the Leafs really only outplayed Columbus in Games 2 and 3. Despite the incredible comeback in Game 4, they failed to generate offense throughout the game and failed to showcase what is considered their largest strength. When it comes down to it, if the Leafs can’t take advantage of their tendency to play aggressively on offense and score at higher rates than other teams, then what is it there for? The answer to this question gets to the frustration fans have felt the past few years – with such a talented forward corps we are expecting to generate offense and it hasn’t come to fruition.
While this post won’t get into the nitty gritty of which players and lines have been to blame, a quick look at the top ice-getters can help us direct our collective anger. What we see below, the summation of the 2017-2020 Leafs playoff history, suggests the problems lie further down the Leafs lineup. Matthews and Nylander have shown solid shot metrics, and while Matthews appears a little unlucky in terms of the scoresheet (GF%) – Nylander has outscored the opposition while he’s on the ice at a comfortable margin. Mitch Marner, the subject of a lot of criticism after a poor series against Columbus – has only an average playoff history in terms of high level metrics – and the Leafs will look for better results from him in the future.
Data from EvolvingHockey and Natural Stat Trick