Keefe under the microscope: Maple Leafs’ 5v5 production in the playoffs

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
8 months ago
It’s August and now that we are officially in hockey’s dead zone I can force an analytics-driven project on you all that no one asked for. The goal of it is determining what games and what trends numbers wise have been successful for the Leafs during the Sheldon Keefe era and what targets should be in place and what gaps need to be addressed. I know, exciting, right? Rather than starting off with something like Corsi or Expected Goals, or even PDO or special teams numbers, we’re going to ease into this with what the NHL is above all else and that’s a goal scoring competition. Given that the Leafs haven’t had playoff success, closing the gap on goals seems like the obvious place to start and that’s what we’ll do.
When it comes to 5v5 goals in the playoffs during the Sheldon Keefe era, the Leafs have had a notable upward swing…
YearAvg GFAvg GA
The unfortunate part of that upswing is that the trend has been for goals against as well as goals for. The Maple Leafs were absolutely locked down during the lock down by Columbus and it wasn’t until Vasilevskiy this year that they had better results before Bobrovsky closing the door tightly again.
It might be a bit messy to look at when it’s individual games but you can see where the Leafs have always fared better against Tampa in the playoffs than the other teams that they’ve gone up against. That could come down to style of play and we’ll certainly look at that more when we get into the relevant stats for those areas.
As for goals, in 2022 the Maple Leafs matched or exceeded Tampa’s 5v5 goals in 5 of the 7 games. This year it was in 4 out of 6. They only matched the Panthers twice. Against Columbus they exceed the Blue Jackets 5v5 goal total just once, but against Montreal they managed to also exceed or match the Canadiens in 5v5 scoring in 5 games, which I guess is the case for why we look at more than just goal scoring when coming up with what the Leafs need to do to win playoff games.
It’s also interesting to see that the Leafs scored four goals against an opponent at 5v5 just once while the Leafs were taken for the same fate 3 time by three separate opponents.
Goal Differential by Wins and Losses:
What has been interesting is where the differentials are coming in wins and losses. The Leafs best 5v5 series is the one they played against Montreal which makes that year hurt even more. The Columbus year was an absolute train wreck and if we’re being incredibly kind to Sheldon Keefe and Co. the fact that he took over the team, went into a lockdown, had to start up on short notice and try to get something out of the Leafs in the post season was probably asking a lot. What is interesting is the goal differential this year which is driven more by Tampa blowouts than Florida outplaying the Leafs.
The Leafs average goals against in a win in the 2023 post season was 1.8, in a loss it spiked to 2.667. What was more significant was that the average goals for in a win was 2.6 but it dropped to 1.5 in a loss. Obviously that’s how you get wins and losses, but we’re starting with goals before getting into the root causes.
Some of what those root causes are going to be linked to what the Leafs do differently when they are on the road vs. at home. The Leafs in the playoffs under Sheldon Keefe have interesting numbers when it comes to home and road success. On the road, the Leafs have a 8-5 record in the playoffs vs. a 5-12 record at home. Four of those Leafs wins at home have been memorable blowouts including two shutouts, but overall the Leafs playoff success has come on the road.
ResultAvg GFAvg GAAvg GFAvg GA
When looking at the splits a few things standout and the first is that on the road the Leafs are far more consistent in their even strength scoring. Their goals against trend the way you’d expect win/loss splits to go, but the Leafs being at their worst defensively and in goal on the road isn’t surprising. And when it comes to the Leafs at home their win goal differential of 1.4 is even more impressive than their -1.08 loss differential is concerning. Given that home ice is meant to be an advantage my opinion is that Sheldon Keefe is over doing it when it comes to his line matching strategy and overthinking some lineup card decisions at home vs. letting his team play their game on the road, but we’ll need to look at a lot more than just goals to address that assumption.
YearAll Situations Avg GF5v5 GF%All Situations Avg GA5v5 GA%
The goals at 5v5 only tell a fraction of the story as well. They might be the majority of the goals with a high consistency, but special teams, 4v4, etc. have a significant impact on the series. From the Leafs perspective you can see how powerplays made things a lot closer against the Blue Jackets than maybe the Leafs had any right making them, but outside of that things are far more consistently around the 2/3rds of the results come from 5v5.
The above graph can be a bit confusing (wins in blue, losses in grey, shooting percentage bold, save percentage faded) and it equates to a few things. The Leafs have had a some decent goaltending performances but there has been some inconsistency to them. The Leafs certain had their best shooting playoff round this year and but it was followed with another status quo one against Florida. The reliance on shooting heater or a struggling goaltender isn’t the long term answer.
I swear at this point the inclusion of the Columbus series in these tables only serves to remind us how awful hockey in the bubble was. The Canadiens series…well, that just constantly looks like a “what could have been…” reminder as well. What we do see other than that is the Leafs are who they are when they play against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Shooting 8% with a 92% 5v5 save percentage seems to be the recipe for success in a series. If the Leafs can get more on the shooting percentage side, great, but as always, the 100% PDO is the realistic model and it allows for the Leafs special teams to be the difference maker in the series, which as long as you have officials game managing to near even penalty differentials, the outcome should favour the Leafs.
Another big part of the Leafs gaining the edge is from maintaining those percentages and out chancing their opponents. When you look at the Leafs overall numbers, especially by win/loss splits, you can see the score effects influencing the shot totals.
Avg Shots forAvg Shots AgainstAvg Corsi ForAvg Corsi Against
Even when you remember how much better the Leafs record is on the road vs. at home during the playoffs, you can see where a lot of those shots and shot attempts are coming from Toronto chasing the game as possible cause for the increased differentials. The trend over the past couple of seasons has been towards the Leafs having negative differentials in their wins while having much closer totals in their losses. My take on this is that prefer the Leafs didn’t shift away from their aggressive offensive approach allowing teams back into the game as often as they do, but at the same time I appreciate that the Leafs have become better at playing in trailing situations most nights than they were in 2020, 2021 and much of the previous decade.
The last thing that seems worth touching on when it comes to 5v5 production is the high danger opportunities and results the Leafs have had.
The trend continues for 2020 and 2021 in that both serve to anger us for different reasons, the Columbus series for being beyond terrible and the Montreal for being good on paper in many ways, but 2023 is really where the focus should lie.
The Leafs put things together when it came to creating and scoring off the best chances in the hardest parts of the ice. Offensively, no notes, best year so far. Do it again.
Defensively, here is a big reason why the Leafs only lasted five games into the second round. While HDSV% was a major strength for Ilya Samsonov throughout the regular season, it was definitely not the case in the post season. Matthew Tkachuk, Carter Verhaeghe, Sam Bennett, and Co. were the right kind of high danger as were the Lightning in the first game of round one. The good news is that things were significantly better under Joseph Woll and regular season Ilya Samsonov should also provide a lot of inspiration for post season Ilya Samsonov.
As for the number of shots being higher this season as well, that is something that could be linked to Mike Van Ryn taking over the defensive responsibilities from Dean Chynoweth. It also seems to be part of the argument for finding more size on the Leafs blueline going forward, one of the key things that hasn’t been addressed. The Leafs high danger chances against have steadily increased upwards over the past few years as the Leafs attempt to get more physical, so I’m not sure that is the solution. Luke Schenn fighting off deflections or tap-ins hasn’t been as impactful as swift puck control, so maybe John Klingberg, for all his defensive flaws, might actually move the Leafs back in the direction they want to go here.


Is it fair to compare the Leafs to Stanley Cup Champion teams? Probably not. If that’s ultimately the goal it’s worth seeing how far the Leafs are off in this regard. When it comes to average 5v5 Corsi per game it doesn’t seem like there is one surefire path to success. The Lightning in 2021 and the Golden Knights were both more conservative than the Leafs in their offensive opportunities, but the 2020 Lightning and the Avalanche were far more aggressive. The Leafs in the playoffs this year exceeded shot attempts against compared to the Stanley Cup Champions, but generally in previous years Toronto was on target and were very good in the regular season this year. The story is very similar when it comes to shots for and against as well. Toronto can be better, but this isn’t necessarily an area that looks to be holding them back except for what those shots have been translating into.
When it comes to 5v5 goals, the Leafs have underperformed in the playoffs compared to Stanley Cup Champions in the goals for category and with the exception of the Avalanche in 2022, their goals against have also been too high to be serious contenders. Even the regular season Maple Leafs last year were off the goal differential targets of the Stanley Cup Champions.
On High Danger shots for and against, the Leafs are right where they should be in the offensive zone. The problem is that Cup Champions suppress those chances at the other end. Cup Champions also capitalize on those high danger chances a lot more than the Leafs have been doing with even their regular season Leafs being just under the Avalanche, who had the lowest HDSH% of the group. When it comes to HDSV%, regular season Ilya Samsonov would have made all the difference.
When it comes to PDO, there is definitely a bit of an advantage to being on a heater. The Leafs in the playoffs have struggled to meet the status quo and that is going to hold them back as well.

Translating the numbers into deliverables

The biggest pieces that stick out are the Leafs need to capitalize more on their high percentage opportunities in the offensive zone while limited the chances in their own zone. Adding a shooter on the blueline in John Klingberg fits with that mentality as there is the potential for a strong point shot to create chaos around the net with capable players like Tyler Bertuzzi, John Tavares, and Matthew Knies trying to capitalize on those chances.
We’ve seen the Leafs excel more via puck movement than by large frame defensemen when it comes to reducing chances in their own end. It’s entirely possible that John Klingberg and increased utilization of a player like Timothy Liljegren can help with that as well.
The Leafs have taken steps to move more in a 5v5 scoring direction with bringing in Domi, Bertuzzi, and Klingberg to essentially replace Bunting, Kerfoot, and Holl. With the exception of Bunting, there wasn’t much offence to be gained from the former Leafs and while there should be legitimate concerns about 5v5 goals against by going in this direction, there is also a strong likelihood of increased 5v5 goals for. As long as the progress is greater on the goals for side, the logic is sound.

Target KPIs

Based off of what we’ve looked at in this article here are the targets for the Leafs to be successful in the playoffs.
Minimum of 45 shot attempts and 24 shots at 5v5
The Leafs are essentially achieving this already and these numbers are in line with what Stanley Cup Championship teams are doing.
Maximum of 43 shot attempts and 23 shots against at 5v5
The Leafs have also largely been on the right path when it comes to suppressing shots and attempts in the regular season and over the entirety of Keefe’s time coaching the Leafs in the playoffs. This year chances against spiked and things didn’t go so well. There is definitely a chance to get back on track.
Goal differential at 5v5 averaging around +.75
The Golden Knights benefited from a strong offence, deep defence, and a hot goaltender to enjoy a +1.5o average differential. If the Leafs get half of that they’d mirror what worked for the Avalanche (who did it without a top tier goaltender or big blueline) or the 2020 Tampa Bay Lightning. Given how close the Leafs were in the regular season to that number (+.51) a playoff heater seems attainable as that level of 5v5 goal differential is other worldly in the regular season.
A combined 105% HDSV% and HDSH%
Some teams do it through an insane save percentage, other teams do it through shooting percentage, but cashing in on your best chances is a must in the playoffs, especially when the Leafs have been getting these chances at rates greater than the Cup Champions and giving up more as well. Only the Avalanche had a sub 100% high danger PDO, and in that trade off they were at least giving up fewer chances than the Leafs did in the 2023 playoffs.
These are big asks and very aspirational, but for team with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander, and no Stanley Cup parade that has been televised in colour, setting the bar high seems like a must.
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