Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Is Last Night's Blowout the Beginning of the End for the Leafs?



The Hockey News' Ken Campbell wondered when the Leafs' poor play would catch up to them in his Monday column, and on the same day Toronto was drubbed 6-0 by the Blue Jackets.

Coincidence?

Campbell doesn't think so. Here are some interesting points from Campbell's column that bring to light the improbability of Toronto's success thus far this season:

"The Leafs are 28th in the league in shots per game, 29th in shots against and 25th in faceoff winning percentage," wrote Campbell. "With numbers like that, it’s a wonder how the Leafs ever even have the puck on their sticks during a game."

But thanks to a stellar goaltending tandem of James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier, the Leafs are winning with regularity, in spite of the numbers. The question: can it continue?

If it does continue, Toronto is hoping it will be the exception rather than the norm. Check out some of the depressing numbers, as cited in Cambell's column:

"To put the Toronto Maple Leafs analytics-defying season into perspective, consider the following: In the past 15 NHL seasons, there has been one team that has finished the season being outshot by a wider average margin than the Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres are in 2013-14. Think about that for a moment. If you multiply the number of teams in the NHL by those 15 seasons, you come up with 441 total teams. And just one of them – or just 0.23 percent – was outshot by more than the 9.7 shots per game by which opponents are outshooting the Maple Leafs and the 10.8 by which the Sabres are being outshot this season. The ’01-02 Atlanta Thrashers, who finished dead last in the NHL that season, were outshot by an average of 11.3 shots per game."


Or maybe the Leafs are better than their current analytics suggest, and they will start to trend upwards in the shots on goal and face-offs won departments, making the whole point of this article moot. Analytics can only take us so far. The fact of the matter is that the Leafs are playing well (or at least they were until last night), and they've been doing it all with significant injuries down the middle. When their centermen get healthy, things could--and should--change.

Still, Campbell's theorizing is worth consideration, especially after last night's laugher. Are the Leafs for real? Or are they pretending?

Time will tell. It always does.