UNIONDALE, NY - MARCH 14:  Jean-Sebastien Giguere #35 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the New York Islanders on March 14, 2010 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. The Isles defeated the Leafs 4-1.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Over the last 15 games, the Toronto Maple Leafs have had a bit of a renaissance when down a man.  To be sure, they’re still dead last in the NHL while short-handed, killing off penalties at a woeful 73.3% rate, but there are signs of life, as the good folks at Maple Leafs Hot Stove point out:

January 31st, 2010 may go down as Brian Burke’s best day in his career as Leafs GM, as the trades he made have had a larger impact than many realize. In the 15 games that have followed (as of Thursday night’s win against New Jersey), the Leafs have surrendered 8 goals in 51 times shorthanded. This figure amounts to a stunning 84.3% Penalty Kill. Seriously. 84.3%. To put this into perspective, the Chicago Blackhawks have an 84.4% PK this season (fifth best PK in the league).

 

What has been the reason for this monumental jump, which represents half as many goals against (give or take)?  The article linked above does a good job considering possible answers, suggesting a variety of possibilities before coming to the logical conclusion that it’s a combination of all of the above.

I’m personally not convinced that the answer is all that complicated, and I say that on the basis of the save percentage numbers put up by the Leafs goaltenders.  NHL.com is good enough to split those numbers up based on the situation, so without further ado, the penalty-killing save percentages of the three goalies who have spent the most time in the Leafs’ net this year:

  • Jean-Sebastien Giguere: 10GP, 39 saves on 42 shots, .929 SV%
  • Jonas Gustavsson: 37GP, 151 saves on 179 shots, .844 SV%
  • Vesa Toskala: 26GP, 105 saves on 135 shots, .778 SV%

That’s an incredible difference with Giguere in net.  Thinking about it from the perspective of the opposition power play, on 100 shots they’ll score seven times on Giguere, 16 times on Gustavsson and 22 times on Toskala.  Put another way, the opposition was three times as likely to score a power play goal on nay given shot against Toskala as they were against Giguere, and more than twice as likely to score on Gustavsson as Giguere.

This is also bad news for the Leafs – since it is all but certain that Giguere can’t keep up that 0.929 short-handed save percentage (a far better number than his overall save percentage of 0.915).  Here are Giguere’s career numbers on the penalty kill:

  • 2009-10 (Leafs): 0.929
  • 2009-10 (Ducks): 0.869
  • 2008-09: 0.867
  • 2007-08: 0.867
  • 2006-07: 0.889
  • 2005-06: 0.862

It’s a nice run that Giguere’s on, and while it’s perhaps a bit harsh to dismiss it as a fluke, there is very little doubt that he cannot sustain those numbers over the long haul.  If he falls back to his career range, he’ll be the Leafs’ best penalty-killing goaltender, and a substantial improvement on Toskala, but the Leafs penalty-killing efficiency will still fall back to Earth.