Can the Leafs Sustain Their Success?

*This article was originally published at thehockeywriters.com/mapleleafscentral

If the underlying statistics are any indication, the Toronto Maple Leafs may soon crash back down to Earth.

The Maple Leafs have had difficulties this season limiting their opponents’ shots against, ranking 28th in the National Hockey League in shots for percentage at even strength. Moreover, their Fenwick for percentage (the accumulation of saves, goals and missed shots) at even-strength ranks 29th.

The league standings of the 2011-12 season can attest to the importance of puck possession as the top ten teams generally had a strong FF%:

Teams  Standings Fenwick For %
Vancouver Canucks 1 10
New York Rangers 2 16
St. Louis Blues 3 4
Pittsburgh Penguins 4 2
Nashville Predators 5 25
Philadelphia Flyers 6 8
Boston Bruins 7 6
Detroit Red Wings 8 1
New Jersey Devils 9 14
Chicago Blackhawks 10 5

 

What’s immediately noticeable from the table is only one team, the Nashville Predators, finished in the top ten despite an abysmal FF%. Besides the Predators, only the Coyotes and the Capitals made the playoffs despite being ranked in the bottom 14 in FF%. So basically, of the top 16 teams ranked in the statistic, 13 made the playoffs. It’s interesting to note that the three teams who managed to make the playoffs all ranked within the top ten in PDO (the sum of shooting percentage and save percentage; teams ranked high generally played in good luck).

The Leafs actually ranked higher last season in FF%, placing 24th in the league. The team’s monumental collapse is well-documented and best described by former general manager Brian Burke: “… this is akin to an 18-wheeler going right off a cliff, I don’t know what happened.”

Unfortunately for Burke, puck possession happened and it didn’t take too kindly to the Leafs. The question surrounding the Leafs this season is whether their success is sustainable and if they can continue to spit in the face of underlying statistics.

In order to provide context on the Leafs’ current predicament, here’s a look at the top 16 teams this season using the same format of the table above:

Teams  Standings Fenwick For %
Chicago Blackhawks 1 2
Anaheim Ducks 2 24
Montreal Canadiens 3 9
Boston Bruins 4 3
Pittsburgh Penguins 5 7
Toronto Maple Leafs 6 27
Ottawa Senators 7 10
Los Angeles Kings 8 1
Carolina Hurricanes 9 14
Detroit Red Wings 10 13
New Jersey Devils 11 5
New York Rangers 12 6
Minnesota Wild 13 26
Vancouver Canucks 14 8
San Jose Sharks 15 19
St. Louis Blues 16 4

 

The table is similar to the previous one in that only a limited amount of teams in the top 16 rank poorly in FF%. Of the four teams ranked in the bottom 14 in FF%, the Ducks and Leafs rank first and second in PDO respectively, while the Sharks rank 12th and the Wild rank 18th.

To further elaborate on the Leafs’ PDO, they rank second in the league with a 10.48 shooting percentage as well as ninth with a .926 team save percentage. There were teams that finished with higher save percentages last season, so it’s possible the Leafs can sustain that rank if James Reimer continues to perform between the pipes. The 10.48 shooting percentage, however, is likely not sustainable.

The Lightning led the league last season with a 9.75 shooting percentage, while the Dallas Stars led the year prior with a 9.14 per cent, so it’s unreasonable to expect the Leafs to maintain such an inflated percentage.

The Leafs’ saving grace, however, may be the shortened season. Logic dictates that luck tends to dissipate over time but in a 48-game season anything is possible. Not only that, but there are always exceptions to the rule and the Toronto Maple Leafs may end up representing that aberration.

All underlying statistics retrieved from hockeyanalysis.com.

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