Uncertainty loomed over the Greater Toronto Area prior to the Toronto Maple Leafs season opener.
There was a new goalie tandem in town with Frederik Andersen signing a big contract, Mitch Marner was finally going to be tested against the pros, the team in general was set to have more young players in their line-up. The NHL was welcomed to the Auston Matthews show in his first game. Two games later, Patrik Laine, who went second overall behind Matthews in the summer, put on a show in Winnipeg against the Leafs with his first career hat trick. Four games in and the Maple Leafs find themselves 1-1-2, and while that’s not particularly bad after a small sample size of games, the way they lost those games wasn’t promising in collapsing-fashion. Even though most of their games were unsettling to watch at times, the Maple Leafs have shown some firepower through their youthful stars.
Keep in mind that four games is not enough to put a significant amount of value in stats. Goalies go on hot and cold streaks, rosters change, a player’s shooting percentage is probably not close to his career average yet. Basically, a lot can adjust in a few games. This is why corsi, which measures shot attempts directed towards the net, is becoming more and more popular because it stays relatively consistent despite small sample sizes. Corsi can reveal the positives and negatives of what a team is doing on the ice that the “eye-test” can easily miss. But anyways, back to the Leafs.
Maple Leafs Have Firepower Through Underlying Numbers
So far this season, Toronto has been fairly strong when it comes to possessing the puck. Their corsi-for percentage (CF%) ranks fourth in the league at 55.80%, behind just the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, and Washington Capitals. Having a young team that can possess the puck as well as the Leafs will help bring hope to the Toronto fan base. Even though the Leafs have only just one win after four games, they’re still an incredibly fun team to watch. They rank first and third in the league in corsi-for per-60 minutes (CF60) and scoring changes per-60 minutes (SCF60) respectively. That’s a lot of firepower coming towards the other team’s zone. The options Toronto has in Marner, Matthews, William Nylander, Nazem Kadri, and James van Riemsdyk (to name few) are looking like more of a threat as each game passes.
On the defensive side of things, Toronto isn’t as spectacular suppressing shots as they are generating them, however they are no slouch for an unproven group of defensemen. So far, they rank 16th in the league in corsi-against per-60 minutes (CA60) and eighth in scoring chances-against per-60 minutes (SCA60).
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) October 20, 2016
As you can see in the tweeted photo above, most Leafs defensemen have performed adequately, if not fairly well this season. Matt Hunwick is the outlier in this group, which is what he was last year as well. The difference between this season and last is that he’s receiving third pairing minutes from coach Babcock. This will allow better defensemen to take up more minutes.
What’s the Problem?
What’s really wrong with the Maple Leafs after four games is their goaltending. These numbers aren’t quite underlying but evidently poor. Andersen has played three-quarters of Toronto’s games so far and his save-percentage is an abysmal .876%, 23rd in the league out of goalies with at least two starts. This shouldn’t give Leafs fans too much of a headache though. Save-percentage – as well as shooting-percentage – is usually all over the place after a short amount of time because of how unpredictable goal scoring can be. Nonetheless, it’s not an excuse for Andersen and his sudden aggressive positioning. However, expect him to improve to his career average save-percentage of .917% the more games he plays.
The Leafs are looking like a competitive team after just a few games in. Should they be able to keep up the pace they’re at now, look for pre-mature playoff discussion in the near future. It might be too soon to tell, and the number might begin to change moving forward, but Toronto has looked very good in this early season.
*all stats are 5-on-5 score, venue adjusted. Courtesy to www.corsica.hockey*