Maple Leafs could take advantage of a less consistent Lightning team when the playoffs arrive in April

Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Barden
1 year ago
The Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Toronto Maple Leafs playoff matchup has been looming for what feels like months.
For both teams, it’s going to be a tough series, one that each group of players, are looking forward to. I’d say the Maple Leafs are in the majority when it comes to that conversation.
Though one aspect is clear this time around: the Lightning are not the same team as they’ve been in years past.
No Blake Coleman, Tyler Johnson, Yanni Gourde, Ondrej Palat, Barclay Goodrow, or Luke Schenn to help push them over the top. Instead, it’s Tanner Jeannot, Branden Hagel, and Nick Paul as the coveted depth pieces.
Not bad replacements, I will say that, but it’s evidently not as strong as the first group. Either way, these two teams continue to match each other’s consistencies and inconsistencies.


We begin with the most important position because like many say, a goaltender can change a playoff series.
If you remember back to last year’s Toronto-Tampa playoff series, Andrei Vasilevskiy wasn’t nearly as good as he’s been in past playoff appearances.
A winning record, yes, but the 28-year-old netminder allowed 22 goals over the course of seven games, giving him an .897 save percentage. There was only one game where Vasilevskiy allowed less than three goals, and that was in game seven.
Still, though, Toronto was able to find the back of the net, which shows that he might not be the goaltender he once was. (There’s no way I’d ever count him out, though.)
Vasilevskiy, this season, is walking down the same path he was last season. The 28-year-old has played in 48 games this year, posting a 29-16-3 record. Not his worst season to date, but it’s also not his best either.
NHL Standard career statistics via HockeyReference.com
He’s not being as outworked as he was last year, where he appeared in 63 games. But Vasilevskiy is also not putting together a consistent string of good numbers.
The 28-year-old had a 12-game window this season where he put up consistent numbers (a .900 save percentage or higher in a game). Ever since Vasilevskiy ended the 12-game streak, he’s been as inconsistent as ever.
In his first 40 games, Vasilevskiy had a 26-13-1 record and a .920 save percentage.The last eight games that he’s appeared in, he’s gone 3-3-2 with an .897 save percentage.
The playoffs are a lot about luck and if he continues to slide down the hill, the luck could eventually turn to his side, just in time for the postseason. But with that being said, the opposite is just as likely.
Lastly, I thought I’d include Brian Elliott’s numbers as well, since he is Vasilevskiy’s backup. The 37-year-old in 16 games this season has a 9-5-2 record with an .894 save percentage and a 3.29 goals against average.

Forwards and Defence

The Lightning at five-on-five this season have allowed the 13th-least goals in the NHL with 124 through 64 games. Toronto, on the other hand, has allowed the 4th-least goals in the NHL with 109 through 64 games.
That right there should immediately spark your interest if you’re a Maple Leafs fan.
If you’d like to compare point totals from each teams’ top four players, the Maple Leafs would have 279 points and the Lightning would have just one more at 280.
5v5 analyticsCF%SF%GF%xGF%
Toronto (NHL rank)51.28 (12th)52.80 (7th)56.57 (5th)53.58 (5th)
Tampa (NHL rank)51.16 (14th)49.81 (18th)52.85 (10th)52.36 (11th)
Analytically, Toronto leads by a fair margin in each of SF%, GF%, and xGF% and if you’re a fan, that’s good to see. But it’s worth noting when looking at these numbers that the playoffs can mean a different outcome.
Looking at the offensive side of Tampa’s game, it’s still there with Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Steven Stamkos leading the charge. Defensively, though, I don’t believe they line up as good as the Maple Leafs.
Tampa’s defence pairings, according to DailyFaceoff:
Victor Hedman* – Zach Bogosian
Mikhail Sergachev – Nick Perbix
Ian Cole – Erik Cernak
Haydn Fleury – Darren Raddysh
* – injury
Both Hedman and Sergachev are having great seasons points wise, as always. Though when you look at the rest of the defence core, you might believe it’s not so strong.
Defenceman (TOI at 5v5)CF%GF%xGF%SCF%HDCF%
Mikhail Sergachev (1124:34)51.5655.0054.5953.8455.97
Victor Hedman (1075:35)50.6053.7651.0452.8554.51
Ian Cole (974:31)51.2152.4454.4054.2159.95
Erik Cernak (840:34)50.7048.0051.2853.6455.47
Nick Perbix (763:1252.7659.7252.9554.7354.69
Zach Bogosian (537:16)50.2352.3850.4951.6549.59
Haydn Fleury (286:10)46.3130.0047.4251.4352.22
Darren Raddysh (23:28)42.110.0047.7235.2950.00
Surprisingly, these numbers match up pretty evenly with the Maple Leafs’ defensive analytics. Toronto might have the edge in GF% as a couple of players reach into the 60% margin at five-on-five, but aside from that, not much is different.
With the new acquisitions of Noel Acciari, Sam Lafferty, Jake McCabe, and Luke Schenn, the Maple Leafs seem to be a much more mean team to play against compared to last year.
There was only one goal between the two teams that decided the series, and with Toronto getting stronger and the Lightning looking as good as they were in 2022, or a bit worse, it could be the Maple Leafs’ series to lose.
But the playoffs are a different beast, always. A team might be inconsistent or down right not good in the regular season, though they can perform well in the postseason every year.
That’s the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, the Maple Leafs might be the team to turns the page this time around.
(Statistics courtesy of NaturalStatTrick.com & Hockey-Reference.com)

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