Leafs Buying Into Horachek’s Systems

The Toronto Maple Leafs lost their first game of a four game road-trip Monday night 2-0 to the Los Angeles Kings. Despite the loss though, the win seemed to be a step in the right direction for the Leafs who look to be quickly buying into the new systems of Peter Horachek.

Horachek took over for head coach Randy Carlyle last week who was fired by the team following a disappointing 2-5-0 road-trip that saw the Maple Leafs fall outside the playoff picture. Under Carlyle the team has been amongst the NHL’s worst possession teams and has struggled with giving up numerous shots against, but so far the Leafs look to be making big strides to correcting that.

The Maple Leafs were among the league's worst in possession under Carlyle.  (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)
The Maple Leafs were among the league’s worst in possession under Carlyle. (Photo Credit: Andy Martin Jr)

An Emphasis on Possession

The Maple Leafs currently sit 27th in the league in Corsi-for at 44.9%, while sitting 28th in Fenwick-for at 45.1%. Oddly both are improvements from last year when the team finished last in the league in both categories. During the 2012-13 season, Carlyle’s first full-season with the team (though it was a lockout shortened season) guess where they finished in both categories? You guessed it 30th, under Carlyle the team struggled to play with the puck and more-or-less were outplayed most nights and relied on their ability to take advantage of the minimal chances they were given.

Obviously it wasn’t just Carlyle right? Well consider, the veteran coach was hired on by the Maple Leafs after the team fired Ron Wilson towards the end of the 2011-12 season. Carlyle joined the team on March 2, 2012 coming on for the team’s final 18 games. That season the team finished 18th in Corsi-for percent, not great, but much better than 30th.

Possession Over the Last Three Games

The Kings have the second-best Corsi-for percent in the NHL. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
The Kings have the second-best Corsi-for percent in the NHL. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Advanced stats continue to strike a debate between the critics and cynics. Those opposed to it will point to the 2012-13 season and say the Leafs still made the playoffs despite finishing last in Corsi-for percent and Fenwick-for percent, while those supporting the fancy stats will say that they were destined to drop off just as they did last year and looked to have done this season.

Either way, Horachek has looked to try and right the wrongs of the Leafs poor possession game. And though it has been just three games the stats are pretty impressive. The Leafs were just slightly edged in Corsi-for against the Kings Monday 43-37. The Buds however, minus blocked shots, (Fenwick-for) the Leafs edged the Kings 31-30. This is impressive considering the Kings have the second highest Corsi-for percentage and sit third in Fenwick-for percent.

In the team’s previous two games the team had Corsi-for percentages of 47.1% against Columbus and whopping 54.8% against the Capitals. To put that 54.8% into perspective, the King’s, who were mentioned above, have the second-best Corsi-for percentage, a 54.7% mark on the season.

Less Rubber Also Helps

Meanwhile during the past three games the Maple Leafs shots against have also been drastically down, which happens when you possess the puck more. The Buds gave up just 20 shots in to the Kings and Blue Jackets and allowed just 26 against the Capitals (though six found the back of the net). In fact the team came within two shots Monday of doing something that Carlyle never achieved as the bench-boss. Under Carlyle the Leafs never out-shot their opponent in three straight games, Horacheck almost achieved it in his first three.

This season the Maple Leafs have given up more than 40 shots per game on 11 different occasions. The Buds currently give up the third-most shots a game, 33.5. Actually the team has moved up a spot over the past three games, having been ahead of just the Buffalo Sabres who sit last in the category, just days ago.

Team is Buying In

What might be the most impressive part above all of these stats is the fact that the team seems to be buying into the concept of playing in such a way. Carlyle many times looked to say the right things, suggesting the team needed to play better in their own end and control the puck more than the opposition. But under Horachek the teams looks to be actually doing it.

The team will continue with their Western road-trip when they visit Anaheim Wednesday night, a team they have already defeated this season. The Leafs are just three games into what has looked like a set of new systems laid out by Horachek. It is important to understand the sample-size is still very small, but if the new man behind the wheel can continue to get his team to play the way they are, they just might be able to sneak themselves back into a playoff position.