It’s ten games in and with that comes the desire to create some small sample sizes graphs, and generally get yelled at about how I share numbers. It’s an important part of being on the world wide web and discussing sports.
Lately I’ve been working off the notion that despite the anger towards the Leafs over their slow starts to each game, which has been pretty darn noticeable, the Leafs have been much more prone towards end of game collapses.
Anecdotally we’ve seen this in the past two games with the Bruins coming back to tie the game in the third and force overtime, and the Blue Jackets doing the same. The hypothesis is that Mike Babcock takes his foot off the gas when it comes to offence and tries to shutdown the opposition instead. These create score effects, which instead of looking at a flaw in data, we are looking at as something that seems to be hurting the Leafs. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Leafs are being hurt by score effects, by their very nature they allow the trailing team to get back in the game, but so far they tell an interesting tale of third period woes and negative outcomes can be seen in the losses to the Habs, Blues, and Blue Jackets, and also be seen in the overtime victory over the Bruins, and in late third period goals given up to the Wild and Senators. So that’s six games out of ten when we the Leafs have done an underwhelming job of protecting the lead and that’s before even looking at the numbers…
So that’s the expected goals tale of the Leafs by period. I’ll start by noting that I’m fully aware of the flaws in shot location reporting this year and think that while xG have been a solid stat in the past, there might be reason to dismiss these numbers. I chose to include them anyway because they at least tell a less alarmist story than looking just at Corsi.
Continuing anyways, assuming that the trends are still somewhat valuable, the Leafs have been shaky at different times in each of the games. On four occasions the Leafs had their worst period in the third, but won in two of those games. In six of the games, the Leafs have had a xGF% below 50% and they’ve won three of those games. In contrast the Leafs are 2-0-1 when their worst period was the first, and 1-1-1 when their worst period is the 2nd.
The trend about lack of offence is a bit more pronounced when we look at shot attempts, where the third period has consistently been the worst period when it comes to balance. Only in Games 8 & 9 (Washington & Boston) did the Leafs not have their worst period in the third. The Washington game was likely the Leafs having score effects work in their favour as they tried to fight their way back, and the game against Boston saw a shift from a strong start to the third period shift towards an absolute shelling of Andersen after the Leafs went up 3-2.
Corsi For by period:
Game 2 (Away)
Game 6 (Away)
Game 8 (Away)
In five games the Leafs have managed to have a CF% greater than 50% in the third, so perhaps I shouldn’t be too alarmist, but in comparison to the much more aggressive 1st and 2nd periods, the lack of pressure isn’t enabling the Leafs to “play a full sixty minutes.”
Leafs numbers when leading:
Moral of the story, they’re far from the worst, but are supposed to be one of the best teams in the league.
Where to go from here?
Well, I dunno. The obvious answer is to recognize that offence is the straw that stirs the drink on the Leafs and there isn’t anything good that can come from Cody Ceci spending an extended amount of time in his own end. For that matter, do we really trust any defenseman not named Jake Muzzin to defend the Leafs zone for an extended period of time?
Is it not easier to just try and keep the puck out of the zone longer? Does it not make sense to try for that two goal cushion sometimes? Alas, I’m talking crazy, but also there needs to be some consideration given to when you’re trying to do the right thing and things go wrong anyway? What can the Leafs do besides double shifting Jake Muzzin to clear up the defensive zone?
That’s the trickier one to answer, and it may start with some personnel changes. Do the Leafs get a boost when Zach Hyman returns to the lineup? Hyman potentially adds to Gauthier, Shore, Kapanen, Moore, and Timashov as forwards you can trust in the Leafs end. Is there a chance that Kevin Gravel is an upgrade? Probably not enough to make a difference.
Reality is it’s probably about creating better outlets to carry the puck out of the zone rather than just dumping it. Too often in recent games the Leafs have prioritized line changes over maintaining puck control and that those few extra seconds of the puck carrier waiting for an outlet instead of turning the puck over might minimize the late game shellings.
The joy of being a blogger is that I don’t have to solve this, I just get to point things out and shout “fix it” over and over again, and right now it looks like the Leafs don’t know how to protect their leads.
All statistics harmed in this post were sourced from NaturalStatTrick.com