If Leafs Stay Defensive 100 Points in Reach

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Toronto Maple Leafs. All opinions expressed by Mike Ulmer are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Toronto Maple Leafs or its Hockey Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Maple Leafs and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NHL accredited member of the media.
Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer would be the key elements of a 100-point season.

Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer would be the key elements of a 100-point season.

Are the Leafs a 100-point team?

Of course they’re not, silly. They only have 12 points.

So how to explain the deluge of good fortune that is a 6-1 record with only one overwhelmingly convincing  victory (last weeks’ 4-0 win over Nashville) in the mix?

Let me give you a hint: the Leafs are actually better than people are saying because they are dramatically improved in the only stat that counts.

They are certainly better than what Randy Carlyle is saying. He summed up the popular consensus when he said “some nights we’re going to get out butts kicked playing like this.”

They have certainly profited from sub-stellar opposition goalies such as Darcy Kuemper in Tuesday’s win over the Wild and Edmonton’s Devan Dubnyk on Saturday.

But the Leafs are good, really good and the prospects for more success shouldn’t flag with the return of David Clarkson from suspension next Friday in Columbus. As well, Nikolai Kulemin and Mark Fraser figure to be back from ankle and knee injuries around that time.

The Leafs success is really no mystery.  Seven games in, the numbers show a Leafs team holding steady in the elements that made them competitive last season:  goals for, penalty killing, and winning while outshot.  It is not outrageous to project those elements to continue.

This year and last, the similarities:

Categories 2013/2014 rank 2012/2013 rank
Penalty kill % 3rd, 88.9% 2nd, 87.9 %
GPG 4th, 3.71 6th, 3.02
Outshot 1st (tie), 4-1, .800 1st, 21-10-5, .583

Now look at the factors that are dissimilar.

This year and last, the differences

Categories 2013/2014 rank 2012/2013 rank
Power Play% 3rd, 33.3 14th, 18.7
OT or SO games 2-0, tied for 1st 30th, 2-5
Goals against a game 5th, 2.29 17th, 2.67

An improved record in shootouts and overtime is a minor factor in the team’s improved performance. So is a more effective power play but stats monkeys will tell you penalty killing is far more important than power play effectiveness and the penalty kill is steady between this year and last.

The whole enchilada, all seven games, is about goals against.

By trimming their goals surrendered to 2.29, the Leafs have dramatically improved their results.

How good is that average?

History suggests that if the Leafs maintained their current level of defence, they would challenge the 100-point total.

Never mind the rest. I will say it again. If the Maple Leafs defend as they have so far this season (2.29 goals against a game, remember) they should be a 100-point team.

Let’s go back to the last full NHL season, 2011-2012.

The team with a goals against average closest to 2.29 was Vancouver at 2.33.

That Canucks team scored at a lesser rate than the Leafs have this year or last season. Their penalty killing was 86 per cent, again worse than last year and this year’s Leaf teams. But because of their defensive diligence, the Canucks went 51-22-9 and racked up 111 points.

Want another comparison? Go up a team. The Phoenix Coyotes finished the 2011-2012 season with a GAA of 2.37, eight points higher than the Leafs current aggregate. They finished with 97 points.

The Goals Against barometer is absolute. Go back another year, 2010-2011.

Boston (2.30 GAA) and Nashville (2.32) turned in full seasons that mirrored what the Leafs have done so far this year. Boston finished with 103 points. Nashville came in with 99.

The Leafs are living proof that shots allowed don’t matter. They are 25th in shots allowed with 34.6. The Leafs have surrendered 14 more shots than the Wild, who lead the league in this department but have surrendered exactly as many goals.

The early returns on Dave Nonis’ move to acquire Jonathan Bernier are stellar. Much of the credit likely belongs in the corner of Carlyle and Dave Farrish, the handler of the team’s defencemen.

the Leafs ability to defend this season is for real, if the addition of Bernier, the further maturation of Jake Gardiner and Cody Franson and the talent jolt provided by Morgan Rielly continue, the Leafs will be a better team than you dared dream possible.

If not, well, you were warned.

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About Mike Ulmer

Mike Ulmer has written 210 post in this blog.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Toronto Maple Leafs. All opinions expressed by Mike Ulmer are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Toronto Maple Leafs or its Hockey Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Maple Leafs and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NHL accredited member of the media.



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