The Toronto Maple Leafs have played six games, and they have lost six times.
Joe O’Connor of the National Post claims that Darcy Tucker showed last night precisely what the Leafs were missing (and, among other things, hints that they need more truculence). Jeff Blair suggests in the Globe & Mail that the team’s performance is primarily Ron Wilson‘s problem, and rather intelligently suggests that too much truculence rather than too little might be part of the problem:
They have lots of guys who can fight – but that’s kind of a non-starter when the other team is kicking your butt playing within the rules, no? Colton Orr and Jay Rosehill don’t make statements in games like Tuesday night; they only add to the embarrassment.
Meanwhile, Maple Leafs Hotstove wonders what the Leafs can do, and Pension Plan Puppets is running stories with titles like “You Can’t Win ‘Em All, Sometimes You Can’t Win Any“. Suffice to say, given the team’s 0-5-1 record, the fanbase is not happy.
Still, before the bleeding can be stopped, it isn’t a bad idea to find out where the bleeding is coming from.
By The Numbers
Here’s what I suggested about Brian Burke‘s off-season at the start of the season:
At the end of the day, though, is it really a great idea to encourage a team which had the worst penalty-kill in the league last season to go all out physically?
So far, the penalty-kill has improved. Where last year the Maple Leafs ranked 30th in the league in penalty-killing efficiency, to date they rank 29th. That, combined with the fourth-most PIM in the NHL (107) has the Leafs dead last in the league in powerplay goals against, with ten. Still, it’s hardly just the penalty kill (and Vesa Toskala‘s .652 SV% on it) that’s undermining the Leafs.
The Maple Leafs have scored eight goals at even-strength, while allowing 16. Some of that is attributable to the goaltenders (at even-strength, number three goaltender Joey MacDonald leads the way with a .905 SV%, with Gustavsson being bad and Toskala being worse) and some to cold hands for the forwards (the Leaf’s 7.1 SH% is among the worst marks in the league).
Still, looking at those numbers it’s hard not to be dismayed at how bad the percentages really are. The goalies who have played against Toronto this year have a combined save percentage of .929. To put that in perspective, the only goaltender who has managed to better that number since the lockout was last year’s Vezina Trophy-winner Tim Thomas. Surely the Leafs’ forwards aren’t that inept. Similarly, there’s simply no way that the Leafs’ goaltenders keep putting up a .841 SV%. Again, for perspective, the worst goaltender since the lockout was Andrew Raycroft, who in 2005-06 managed a pathetic .879 SV%. There’s just no way those trends continue. The forwards are better than that, and they’ll score more than that. The goaltenders can’t possbily be that bad, and even if they were the Leafs could dig up an ECHL goaltender and out-do those numbers.
The Bottom Line
None of this is to say there aren’t problems that need to be dealt with, but right now a lot of the panic is being caused by a team so unlucky that it’s like they’re playing the best goaltender since the lockout every night and icing a guy worse than the worst goaltender since the lockout every single night. It won’t continue.
Matt Fenwick of Battle of Alberta was kind enough to point out to me that I didn’t do a very good job of explaining how much these percentages are murdering the Leafs. Let me explain now. If we replace the Leafs’ miserable 7.1 SH% and ,841 SV% with the numbers from the worst team in the last 14 years – the expansion Atlanta Thrashers, who I referenced in the comments – we see the following changes:
- Goals For: Improves from 13 to 15
- Goals Against: Improves from 26 to 20
- Goal Differential: Improves from 13 to five
In other words, simply by changing the percentages to those of the worst team in recent memory, the Leafs improve their goal differential by 62%. That’s almost two-thirds of the way to being an even team right there. In other words, there’s simply no chance that they aren’t a far better team than they’ve shown to date.