A lot has been made of the Leafs’ inability to have sustained pressure on the puck. This team can’t seem to play with the puck, but still seems to be able to able to crunch out wins.
The victory over the Minnesota Wild is a perfect example of this. The final score indicates a dominant game by the Maple Leafs, an easy 4-1 victory. However, if you watched the game, you would know the opposite is true.
The Leafs were thoroughly outplayed against the Wild – completely dominated at times to the point it wasn’t even funny. That makes it extra frustrating for the Wild that they lost by such a lopsided score.
First and foremost is the shots differential: 37-14. No, the Leafs did not get 37 shots off for 4 goals. Which leads to the more surprising stat – the Leafs scored 4 times on 14 shots (3 on 13 not including the empty netter).
Darcy Kuemper, the starting goalie for the Wild, had an horrendous 4 saves on 7 shots, for a .571 SV% on the night. Josh Harding replaced around halfway through, and was able to stop all 6 shots he faced. 13 shots through 60 minutes on the Wild netminders – some teams in this League can manage that in a single period.
On the other hand, the Leafs were completely bailed out by James Reimer, who made 36 saves on 37 shots, resulting in his best game of the season thus far. It seems to be a common theme for the Leafs – they play poorly overall but then get bailed out by either Reimer or Jonathan Bernier. That, clearly, will not result in sustainable success in the long-term.
Leafs Know They’re In Trouble
Read this article – it’s all you need to read to understand that Randy Carlyle and the rest of Leafs management knows they need better control of the puck.
Still, it isn’t hard to point to injuries as the reason why this team is struggling in that category. The Leafs will likely be a much better once Nik Kulemin, Mark Fraser and JVR are back in the lineup. Not to mention the suspended David Clarkson (10 games seems like forever).
The Leafs are using rookies Josh Leivo and David Broll to fill in, along with a mostly career AHL player in Trevor Smith. You’re not going to get the best possession stats against the NHL’s best by employing such players. This is especially true for Broll, who is facing top competition in his top-6 role on the second line with Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul.
That’s not to say Leivo, Broll, and even Smith can’t be productive forwards in the NHL. However, seeing as all three players have minimal experience in the big league, it makes sense that they would struggle in terms of possession.
A Look At The Numbers
So I’ve been talking a bit about how the Leafs have been struggling in possession, and shots are certainly one way we can track this. However, we can take a look at Corsi as a more accurate way to track possession. A quick explanation of Corsi: Shots + Missed Shots + Blocked Shots. Basically all shot attempts, not just the ones that make it as Shots on Goal (SOG, what the NHL tracks in games).
When talking Corsi, there’s only one number we need to look at.
Why 44.1, you ask? That’s the Maple Leafs Corsi For Percentage, and it is dead last in the entire NHL. Worse than the floundering Oilers. Worse than the tanking Sabres. Dead last in the entire league.
Advanced stats proponents will tell you: the numbers don’t lie, and if the Leafs continue to keep this up, their win/loss record will undoubtedly regress.
So it remains to be seen, can the Leafs turn it around? For their sake, I sure hope so, because if not, last year’s playoff berth will be a distant memory.
Alex is a Lead Writer for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Since joining the Hockey Writers, he has also briefly covered the Carolina Hurricanes. He also currently works as an assistant for the Western Mustangs at the University of Western Ontario. Follow him on Twitter @alexmai11.