This morning marks the two week point of the National Hockey League season. To say the Leafs started the year strong would be a bit of an understatement considering this:
Leafs off to their best start in 20 years. TIME FOR TORONTO TO FREAK OUT
— Caroline Cameron (@SNCaroline) October 13, 2013
To be honest, part of me does want to freak out just because I’ve seen something from the Leafs that I haven’t seen in ages; the ability to play bad but still come out with a win. To me, this is what separates a good team from a great team.
Now I realize it’s only been six games, but still, when you give away the puck 33 times in one game and still win, (which they did against the Sens), it’s a good sign. Or when you win just 39% of faceoffs in a game where you’re also out shot by a margin of 10 (which they did against Nashville), and still come out with a ‘W’ then it means you have a complete team, because other parts of your game make up for the deficiencies.
So, through six games of the 2013-14 NHL season, here are some of the numbers that stand out to me, both good and bad.
120.1 Special Team Index (STI)- 2nd in the NHL
Go ahead, get all the “STI” jokes out of your system. No that you’re done, I can explain that the STI index is simply calculated by adding a team’s penalty killing percentage with its powerplay percentage. Credit to hockey analytic wiz Rob Vollman of hockeyabstract.com for that one.
Leafs "special teams index" that @robvollmanNHL wrote about has gone from 106.6 to 120.1. Which is basically very high to insanely high.
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) October 13, 2013
So basically, the Leafs are really really really really good on special teams. Like CRAZY good, at least so far. Small sample size BUT, last season they finished second in the league in special team index (106.6). So odds are they can probably maintain a solid STI number, just not the above 90% PK and almost 30% PP they currently have…
STI doesn’t tell you everything but nowadays special teams are such a big part of the game that it can become quite useful. The top 16 STI teams last season included every playoff team except for three (only Philadelphia, Edmonton and Calgary finished top 16 in STI yet missed the playoffs). You can’t solely rely on special teams (Philly finished 1st) but if you can slightly exceed the 100 mark then you’ve put yourself in a very good position. My guess is the Leafs PP cools off quite a bit but their PK should remain quite strong (Bolland, Bozak, McClement, Kulemin). But they do need to win more shorthanded faceoffs…Which brings me to my next stat…
45.7% on Team Faceoffs- 23rd in the NHL
Heading into the season, I didn’t think this would be a problem. And it’s still early so maybe it’s not, but nobody on this team is individually above 50%! Not even Bozak! I know that Kadri needs work on draws and half expect him to struggle but not the others guys! Bolland is below 45% and Bozak is 11 for 31 on shorthanded faceoffs.
A closer look however makes me think these numbers might change very soon:
[table id=235 /]
As the table shows, the Leafs struggle mightily in the faceoff circle against Western Conference opponents. Considering they play almost twice as many games against Eastern opponents as they do against the West, this stat should improve.
98 Giveaways- 1st in the NHL (by a mile)
The Leafs give the puck away…A LOT. They have 32 more giveaways than second place Edmonton so even though they are one of few teams to have already played six games, there is little doubt that they would still lead the league. Now, the silver lining of sorts is that they are third in the league in takeaways (55) but I still don’t like that ratio one bit. As mentioned earlier in the article, against the Sens the Maple Leafs had 33 giveaways yet still managed to find a way to win. They also let in four goals that game.
The second most giveaways the Leafs have had? 21 against the Oilers. They let in five goals that game. See a pattern? Giveaways equal more goals against, which is hardly a surprise.
So who’s to blame? Well, Gunnarsson has a team high 12 (and 0 takeaways). But others aren’t far behind him: Kadri and Lupul both have 10 and Kessel, Ranger and Rielly each have nine. So stop giving away the puck guys! Don’t leave Bernier out to dry so much or else it will start costing the team.
11.9 Team Shooting %- 5th in the NHL
This stat just says that a lot of the shots the Leafs take go in. Last season, their 11.5% lead the entire NHL and many attribute success in this stat to pure luck. Without a doubt, luck plays a huge role in a high shooting %. But it also can mean teams pass up low quality shots from the perimeter in favour of working the puck around to try to get a better look.
Regardless I will say this; the Leafs appear to be taking a lot of shots at the net this season (which I’ll examine next), so there is next to no chance that they finish first in the league again. Correct that, ZERO chance that they finish 1st two seasons in a row. So they can’t count on luck being on their side again. They won’t keep up their 3.67 goals for per game. They need to be able to squeak out the 2-1 and 3-2 wins, which so far has meant letting Bernier do all the work. That needs to change. Allowing 34.2 shots against per game (as they have so far) won’t cut it.
48.5 Corsi For %- 20th in the NHL
What in the Heck is Corsi For???
First off, Corsi isn’t as scary as it sounds. Via extraskater.com, corsi is simply the number of shot attempts from a team or player that is the sum of goals, shots on goal, missed shots and blocked shots.
So what’s the percentage? Well if “Corsi For”(CF) is the number of shots attempted on goal by your team, then “Corsi Against” (CA) is the number that your team concedes, making the percentage an average of the two. What this number shows is that Toronto concedes slightly more shots directed at its own goal than its able to create the other way which means Toronto isn’t a puck possession team (you can’t create chances unless you have the puck). But the percentage doesn’t tell the whole story. We know the Leafs give up slightly more than they create but do we create and concede a heck of a lot or very little? Well, their CF is 5th highest and their CA is THE highest. In short, the Leafs give up TONS of chances, but create lots as well.
For a team that is 5-1-0, the low percentage is a bit worrisome. Look at the 5-0 Sharks. They have been dominant so far this season because they create an unbelievable amount of chances, but they also don’t concede very many. Their Corsi numbers reflect that: 388 CF (Toronto is close with 354), 249 CA (Toronto is dead last with 376) for a CF% of 60.9%. In my eyes though, this is good news because it means (and I alluded to this earlier) that the Leafs can play a bad game and still win. The only question is can they play better when they face the powerhouses of the East (Wings, Bruins, Pens etc.)? Because if they keep up this low CF%, things will start to go downhill, and quickly.
Nathan Kanter covers the Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs for The Hockey Writers. He received his master’s in journalism from Western University in May of 2015 before serving as the first ever Digital Managing Editor at Western’s university newspaper, The Western Gazette, in 2015-16. From 2016-18, he served as the radio play-by-play voice of the Battlefords North Stars in the SJHL. His work has been published in The Hockey News, at Sportsnet.ca and at Dobber Prospects.