By the Numbers: The Maple Leafs defence could be better

Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
7 months ago
I’m sorry for the bold statement in the title. And I’m sure you absolutely need numbers to tell you that. This post isn’t attempting to fight with your eyes and I think in all likelihood it is probably confirming what you’ve seen more than anything else. The numbers might be a bit more friendly to Mark Giordano than your eyes have been, but also try to remember that of the Leafs blueliners he has been the most sheltered, so as with all data, context is king. As is the fact that this is three games into the year. With a new defensive coach and new system. That was always going to make things look a little worse and while I’ve already touched on at the least the importance of getting Jake McCabe on track soon, there are a number of adjustments that need to take place.
Here are some of the key numbers from the first three games:
So let’s start with the classic and look at Corsi (shot attempts) first. The above chart shows the Leafs shot attempts above at 5v5 over 60 minutes for each of the defencemen. As with all of the charts the lower the number the better and for context in the 50s is manageable, below 50 is great, and the 60s probably mean that some adjustments need to occur. Having numbers in the 70s and 80s are signs of some truly bad games being played and having McCabe, Klingberg, and Giordano in the high 70s and 80s at the same time or 4 defencemen over 70 in the last game is absolutely a sign of the problems the Leafs are facing.
Toronto, more or less, embraces a run and gun style of hockey and the offensive skill should offset some of the higher numbers, but the consistently high numbers for McCabe and Klingberg isn’t great.
When it comes to expected goals against these numbers should really align closely with what you’d be comfortable with as a team GAA. In that sense Rielly, Liljegren, and Brodie have been hitting the mark and Giordano has had one bad game. In a microsized sample of looking at xGA in one game samples or even looking at the trend over three games isn’t going to be particularly helpful but there is at least some signs of the Leafs trending towards us not having to worry about a few of these blueliners. I personally take the view that with a lot of these numbers it shows who is someone you can potentially trust with a little more work or bump up slightly in the lineup knowing that their numbers will get a little worse everytime their job gets a little tougher. The Leafs need to find a way of making things easier for McCabe and Klingberg, and while the Corsi Against numbers up top don’t support it as much, Timothy Liljegren getting more work seems like the best internal path forward.
At the end of the day it’s about results and goals against is what teh Leafs are trying to prevent. Like with expected goals, the closer this number is to something that looks like a healthy goals against average the better. The Leafs do not have a heavy goals against average so this looks somewhat terrifying. There is again a case to be made for Timothy Liljegren through the numbers, so we’ll do just that.
Liljegren got a bit of a taste of the second pairing in the third game of the season during the third period and it wouldn’t be surprising to see that again on Thursday night. The fact that the opponent is not only a division rival but the team that knocked the Leafs out of the playoffs likely means they are best early benchmark for where the Leafs are at defensively, so it will be interesting to see if we are already at the try Liljegren up in the lineup stage or if the plan is still be damned for what Klingberg is.
Liljegren would regularly be seeing top six forwards in a second pairing in contrast to his current situation that is more tailored toward bottom six forwards and ideally more offensive zone starts. It is entirely possible that Liljegren’s game that is far from perfect can’t close the gap enough defensively while the Leafs are potentially jettisoning Klingberg’s offensive impact. Klingberg’s 3.57 GF/60 to Liljegren’s 1.36 is something that stands out but again the context of who is on the ice with offence creators is something that needs to be considered.
The Leafs don’t have a lot of options and hoping for a speedy regression to the mean is probably what’s best. The Leafs aren’t going to give up four goals a game all season but it would be nice if they tried to address some of the reasons why it has been occurring.
Data sourced from Natural Stat Trick

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