Throughout a large part of this summer I’ve been sitting around viewing Ilya Mikheyev as a lynchpin of the success of the Leafs’ penalty kill and someone whose absence was going to leave Toronto feeling…well…shorthanded. Now that I’ve started looking at some of the actual numbers on the Leafs’ success from last year, that is decidedly not the case and there is good reason to be excited about the returning cast, including potentially Alex Kerfoot.
The first biggest takeaway when looking at how the Leafs’ penalty killers performed is how much more amazing the Carolina Hurricanes did on the penalty kill last year. Presumably, Dean Chynoweth is the Johnny Appleseed of planting competent penalty kills around the league and Toronto should be excited that even better stuff can still blossom based on what we’ve seen with the Hurricanes. When looking at Corsi Against/60 on the penalty kill, the Hurricanes had 8 of the top 11 players in the league (minimum of 50 minutes played.) Pierre Engvall was the sole Leaf to crack the top ten and yes both Mikheyev and Kase made the top 30 as well. Kase actually had the 2nd best goals against/60 of anyone playing shorthanded last season, so perhaps he’s a more significant loss than Mikheyev. It’s probably no surprise that Carolina picked him up.
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Where the numbers start looking a bit more favourable for the current Leafs penalty killers is when you switch the minimum minutes played to 100 (a better sample and definitely speaks to more significant usage against top powerplay units. Here is where the current Leafs thrive. There is still a Carolina dominance to speak of, but Morgan Rielly, TJ Brodie, Alex Kerfoot, and Mitch Marner all find themselves in the top 30 for Corsi Against/60, but only Rielly and Brodie found themselves in the top 50 goals against/60.
Where the Leafs’ penalty kill really begins to show its full impact is when offense is brought into the equation. Rielly (3), Marner (4), Kerfoot (6), and Brodie (12) were all amongst the leaders for CF% on the penalty kill, and Brodie (6), Rielly (13), and Holl (19) were amongst the leaders in GF% on the penalty kill (still based on a minimum of 100 minutes played.)
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Expanding that includes players with 50 minutes played, you have Mikheyev as first in the league for CF%, but you also have Timothy Liljegren come in at 2nd in the league while still maintaining Rielly and Marner in the top 10. Pierre Engvall is another notable name that joins the top 20 of the league here.
Player
GP
TOI
TOI/GP
CF/60
CA/60
CF%
GF/60
GA/60
GF%
xGF/60
xGA/60
xGF%
Jake Muzzin
47
122.22
2.60
14.73
87.39
14.42
0.98
7.36
11.76
1.01
6.42
13.58
David Kampf
82
202.67
2.47
15.69
84.97
15.59
1.78
7.11
20.00
0.84
5.84
12.54
Justin Holl
69
169.78
2.46
18.73
86.23
17.85
2.47
7.42
25.00
1.23
6.65
15.59
TJ Brodie
82
186.67
2.28
20.57
74.89
21.55
2.25
5.79
28.00
1.18
5.18
18.57
Mitchell Marner
72
144.92
2.01
27.74
81.15
25.48
2.07
7.87
20.83
1.67
6.39
20.68
Alexander Kerfoot
82
140.83
1.72
23.43
77.54
23.21
1.28
6.82
15.79
1.71
6.29
21.41
Morgan Rielly
82
138.32
1.69
26.89
75.05
26.38
1.74
5.21
25.00
1.67
6.35
20.80
Mark Giordano
20
32.27
1.61
20.45
83.68
19.64
3.72
7.44
33.33
2.16
5.85
26.95
Ilya Mikheyev
53
73.95
1.40
31.64
70.59
30.95
4.06
5.68
41.67
2.56
5.83
30.53
Ondrej Kase
50
62.03
1.24
19.34
74.48
20.62
0.97
1.93
33.33
1.30
4.68
21.69
Timothy Liljegren
61
64.83
1.06
33.32
75.89
30.51
1.85
6.48
22.22
2.74
5.16
34.65
Pierre Engvall
78
74.18
0.95
21.03
67.13
23.85
2.43
8.09
23.08
1.92
4.81
28.50
Ilya Lyubushkin
31
27.92
0.90
34.39
75.22
31.37
2.15
12.90
14.29
2.71
5.76
32.00
What is interesting is that for the most part of these numbers (save for Lyubushkin’s GA/60) are pretty darn respectable. To some extent, there is something to be said for 10 out of 13 of the Leafs penalty killers who played over 25 minutes returning. And to a greater extent, there is something to be said for having Dean Chynoweth still overseeing the PK.
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When it comes to the Leafs’ “power kill” aggressive attack on the PK the name that seems like it should be synonymous with that is Mitch Marner, but instead it really is Mikheyev who had the obscene totals. This seemingly comes down to two factors. The first is speed kills, and Mikheyev can easily burn the lone offensive defenseman who is on the ice during a powerplay for a breakaway attempt. And the other comes down to linemates. Marner was more frequently put with Kampf, and Mikheyev played most frequently with a more offensive-driven Alex Kerfoot. Engvall, who seems to be the heir apparent to Mikheyev’s role played a relatively balanced number of minutes with Kerfoot, Kampf, Kase, or Mikheyev. Assuming there are no further changes with the PK personnel, putting Engvall with Mikheyev looks like what the Leafs will do but this doesn’t account for where Calle Jarnkrok will fit into this group.
When it comes to the Leafs blueline on the penalty kill the utilization has been interesting. Like the forward group and the higher utilization of David Kampf, Jake Muzzin is the primary defenseman, when healthy, and doesn’t stand out as one of the success stories on the penalty kill. It’s largely because of the tougher assignments for Kampf and Muzzin that they don’t stand out and instead, we’ve been treated to what was a very competent Rielly-Brodie pairing as a success story.
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It should also be noted that Justin Holl was also very successful in his penalty killing role, and while it still seems that one of Kerfoot or Holl isn’t long for the Leafs, the penalty kill is an area both excelled in.
Finally, it’s important to note the success of Timothy Liljegren and the obvious capabilities of Mark Giordano as well when talking about the penalty kill. Liljegren is seemingly ready to slot into Holl’s role as a full time PKer if needed, and Giordano might either serve as a strong option beyond the main pairings or could replace Rielly to keep him fresh for the points in the game more suited to offensive opportunities.
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While having Mikheyev and Kase depart was certainly a hit to the Leafs, it is encouraging to see that the Leafs still have plenty of successful personnel in place, and a capable addition in Calle Jarnkrok to help keep the penalty kill up to the high standard that Dean Chynoweth set. And at the end of the day, it usually is more about the system than the players when shorthanded. The fact that the Leafs have brought in goaltenders with somewhat improved HDSV% also addresses some of their biggest areas of concern on the penalty kill, as both Campbell and Mrazek struggled beyond most NHL goaltenders with shots from the toughest parts of the ice last season.
In general, special teams success was critical to the Leafs regular season success last year and gave them a fighting chance against a tough Lightning opponent in the playoffs. Being able to at least maintain what they’ve already achieved is important to remaining a contending team in the league.
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Data sourced from Natural Stat Trick

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