Anyone who watched Saturday’s game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks saw the Leafs get widely out shot and out played all night long. Vancouver had the first 11 shots in the game and Toronto didn’t get their first shot until over eight minutes in.
But what made Saturday different was that Vancouver scored on their many shots. Including the Vancouver game, Toronto has been out shot in 13 of their first 15 games. But they have a 10-5 record and are tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings for first in the Atlantic Division with 20 points.
With the help of some detailed calculations from our stats guru, Prashanth Iyer, I am going to examine this strange start to the Leafs season and then predict if it can last.
Shots Against Per Game
As already pointed out, the Leafs have been out shot in all but two games. That would be their season opener against the Montreal Canadiens and their third game against the Ottawa Senators. On top of that, their 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks was the only game where an opponent did not get 30 shots, with the Ducks registering 25.
The 47 allowed against Vancouver were a season high, but it was the third game in a row where the Leafs had allowed over 40 shots. In 15 games, Toronto is averaging 36.8 shots against per game. Ottawa is the only team with a higher average, at 38.5. In comparison, the Minnesota Wild only average 23.9, which is the lowest in the league.
Location of Shots
However, just because a shot is on goal, doesn’t mean it is a genuine scoring chance. Vesa Toskala isn’t playing for the Leafs anymore after all. For this article, we are going to examine shots in the danger zone.
The danger zone extends the width of the two dots and the length from the goal line to the top of the circles, forming a rectangle also known as the slot. Of course, goals from defensemen do come from further out, but shots inside the danger zone tend to have a higher chance of going in.
On average, the Leafs allow 18.67 shots from the danger zone per game. Overall, about 51 per cent of the shots allowed by Toronto come from that area. But that percentage can fluctuate. For example, Montreal took 25 of their 37 shots in the season opener from the danger zone. That’s 68 per cent. On the opposite end, Vancouver may have fired 47 shots Saturday, but only 16 were in the danger zone or 34 per cent.
As far as distance goes, Toronto’s average shot against comes from 36.4 feet away. The distance between the end boards and the blue line is 75 feet so the average shot comes around the circle dots, or the heart of the danger zone.
So can the Leafs keep this pace up? History says no. Since 1997-98, only one team has won the Stanley Cup with a negative shot differential. The Pittsburgh Penguins had a -0.7 shot differential in 2009 but still won it all.
As far as total number of shots go, the most a team since 1997-98 has given up and still won the Cup with was the 2011 Boston Bruins who gave up an average of 32.7 a game. Only two other teams have won the Cup in that span with an average shot against total higher than 27.4 a game, the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes and the 2009 Penguins.
So while the hot start has gotten Leafs fans excited and both Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer have played well, history shows that they need to solve this shots problem. If this study proves anything, it’s that strong defense wins championships and that what the Leafs are doing right now is not good enough to make them champions.
But the Leafs are almost there. By adding one or two more veteran, stay at home defensemen and getting all of their forwards to be accountable at both ends, they might be able to lower their opponents shot totals. But if they don’t, there is a good chance one or both of their goalies will falter due to fatigue and the team will drop fast in the standings.
But they have only played 15 games. There is a lot of season left.