Comparing the Leafs special teams to see if it can be the key to playoff success

Photo credit:© Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
2 years ago
After getting absolutely destroyed by Buffalo on Tuesday night, it wouldn’t hurt to feel a little good about something, so it’s time to talk about special teams. Or at least comparing them to the rest of the league to feel better about the Leafs.
Heading into Tuesday night the Leafs were pretty close to 30%, at 29.4% success rate on the powerplay. This is 3% higher than the next closest team. For all our complaints about the powerplay, it’s absolutely been a bright spot for the Leafs, and if there isn’t an erosion of penalties come playoff time (gulp) it’s a great advantage for Toronto to have in the postseason.
As for the penalty kill, it’s a little worse, and comes in at 6th in the league, but you’ll see, it’s actually better than when you factor in a few extra details in a little bit. The Leafs are the best of the Atlantic teams when it comes to the penalty kill, and perhaps this is an argument for Toronto to want a penalty laden first round.
One of the measures for success used around the NHL as a predictor of how good a team really is in the combination of PP+PK to give an overall score, so I thought I’d share that special teams score here:
TeamSpecial Teams Combined
Toronto Maple Leafs112.9
Carolina Hurricanes111.3
St. Louis Blues109.3
New York Rangers108
Pittsburgh Penguins107.2
Calgary Flames107
Boston Bruins105.1
San Jose Sharks104.8
Nashville Predators104.5
New York Islanders104.3
Colorado Avalanche104
Edmonton Oilers103.2
Anaheim Ducks103
Florida Panthers103
Tampa Bay Lightning102.9
Washington Capitals101.3
Dallas Stars100.8
Ottawa Senators99.6
New Jersey Devils97.3
Winnipeg Jets96.3
Vancouver Canucks96.1
Chicago Blackhawks96
Columbus Blue Jackets95.9
Vegas Golden Knights95.9
Minnesota Wild95.8
Buffalo Sabres95.4
Los Angeles Kings93.4
Detroit Red Wings90.8
Seattle Kraken89.2
Philadelphia Flyers88.4
Montréal Canadiens88.2
Arizona Coyotes86.7
So heading into Tuesday night the Leafs were in fact the best special teams team in the league, using the raw numbers. And other than the Minnesota Wild, the only teams outside the top 16 are the bubble teams Dallas, Vegas, and Los Angeles.
The interesting thing that NHL.com does is track the “net” powerplay and penalty kill results, counting goals against on the powerplay and goals for on the penalty kill as -1 on the overall numbers. The goals against on the powerplay cost the Leafs 2%, but their shorthanded scoring success moves them up to having the second best penalty kill in the league behind Carolina. When you look at the net results you can see a much more sizable advantage for the Leafs over the rest of the league.
TeamNet Special Teams Combined
Toronto Maple Leafs117.2
Carolina Hurricanes111.4
St. Louis Blues111.4
New York Rangers109.9
Calgary Flames108.7
Pittsburgh Penguins105.7
Florida Panthers104.8
Colorado Avalanche104.8
Boston Bruins104.4
Edmonton Oilers104.3
Anaheim Ducks103.9
Nashville Predators103.6
Tampa Bay Lightning103.4
New York Islanders102.2
Washington Capitals101.6
Dallas Stars101.5
San Jose Sharks101.2
Ottawa Senators101.1
Vegas Golden Knights98
Winnipeg Jets97
Columbus Blue Jackets96.1
Vancouver Canucks95.8
New Jersey Devils95
Los Angeles Kings94.9
Buffalo Sabres94.6
Minnesota Wild94.4
Chicago Blackhawks94.2
Seattle Kraken89.7
Detroit Red Wings88.9
Philadelphia Flyers86.7
Montréal Canadiens86.1
Arizona Coyotes85.7
That’s all well and good, but that doesn’t really consider the fact that teams aren’t equally on powerplays or being shorthanded. It also doesn’t really account for the number of times that some teams are involved in fewer special teams situations than others, in fact at this point there’s a range of the Predators and Canadiens being on special teams 470 times down to the Islanders who have only found themselves in 359 special team situations. There’s also quite a range when it comes to powerplay-penalty kill differential, with the Leafs falling 22nd in the league being shorthanded nine more times than they’ve had the powerplay.
TeamPP OppTSHTotal Special Team EventsPP Op-TSH
Pittsburgh Penguins22718641341
Colorado Avalanche24420945335
Los Angeles Kings22620142725
Vancouver Canucks22420643018
Washington Capitals21720041717
Dallas Stars21620141715
Winnipeg Jets22721344014
Chicago Blackhawks21319941214
New Jersey Devils20018838812
Buffalo Sabres19718538212
St. Louis Blues2092004099
Philadelphia Flyers2092004099
Florida Panthers2332284615
San Jose Sharks1961913875
Detroit Red Wings2042014053
Tampa Bay Lightning2242224462
New York Islanders1801793591
Anaheim Ducks2042044080
Ottawa Senators214215429-1
Vegas Golden Knights191192383-1
Seattle Kraken191197388-6
Toronto Maple Leafs197206403-9
Minnesota Wild215227442-12
Edmonton Oilers212224436-12
Calgary Flames203216419-13
New York Rangers193207400-14
Columbus Blue Jackets192211403-19
Boston Bruins209230439-21
Montréal Canadiens224246470-22
Nashville Predators222248470-26
Carolina Hurricanes210249459-39
Arizona Coyotes177219396-42
So while we might feel the league is out to get the Leafs, I guess we can take comfort in the fact that the Bruins and Hurricanes still get more calls against them, even if they may deserve it more.
The frequency in which teams get penalties called for or against them created the below weighted net numbers, and sadly, thanks to the refs being out to get the Hurricanes, the Leafs actually only have the second best special teams in comparison to the rest of the league.
TeamWeighted Net Special Teams
Carolina Hurricanes124.76
Toronto Maple Leafs120.11
New York Rangers114.31
Calgary Flames112.97
Boston Bruins111.13
Nashville Predators110.74
St. Louis Blues108.66
Edmonton Oilers107.71
Anaheim Ducks103.90
Florida Panthers103.46
Columbus Blue Jackets102.94
Tampa Bay Lightning102.82
New York Islanders101.81
Ottawa Senators101.41
Arizona Coyotes101.19
San Jose Sharks99.33
Vegas Golden Knights98.36
Minnesota Wild97.65
Dallas Stars97.39
Colorado Avalanche96.92
Washington Capitals96.27
Pittsburgh Penguins93.87
Winnipeg Jets93.32
Montréal Canadiens92.89
Seattle Kraken91.87
Vancouver Canucks91.39
Buffalo Sabres91.01
New Jersey Devils90.72
Chicago Blackhawks90.50
Detroit Red Wings87.97
Los Angeles Kings87.41
Philadelphia Flyers83.64
So what does any of this mean, well, it means it’s in the Leafs best interest to steer into games that are more heavily called and not so game managed. The Leafs have had 9th fewest number of calls for or against in a game, but can hopefully seek comfort in the fact that Florida, Tampa, and Boston are all in the top 10 of special teams instances. Even if the refs are seemingly putting their whistles away by the standards of those games, that could be upswing in special teams for the Leafs, and that’s not a bad thing, except for the fact that calls tend to favour Florida and Tampa, and no matter how good the Leafs penalty kill is, there’s no advantage to being on the penalty kill.
Data sourced from NHL.com
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