Let’s start with the fact that the Leafs are at the top of their division 7-2-1 at the start of the season and we’ve had skills from all the players you would hope to see. The big four forwards are doing great, the new additions to the blueline sure give the impression that the position has been improved and Andersen and Campbell seem to be able to do the job for the Leafs this year.
It all looks pretty good on the surface, but some of these change if we think about how the Leafs got to this point. The reality is that it was a very shaky 7-2-1 performance and for the most part the Leafs have relied on their power play to save them and on an otherwise lackluster night of brief offensive hockey can get by from them.
Looking at their performances so far, the victories in Ottawa and against Winnipeg were the only ones that statistically show the Leafs as the dominant team in 5v5 mode, trying to claim their victory. And even in those two games, the Leafs needed their power play to stay ahead of those wins.
When it comes to the bad trips, the first Ottawa and Edmonton game certainly easily fit those bills. This weekend’s game against Edmonton felt more even than the underlying numbers show and this could be due to Koskinen playing a solid game, but I’m not sure the Leafs were as bad as they were on encountered a team that was playing at their best.
Breaking the luck also comes with a little consideration of the point effects. The strong starts against Edmonton and Calgary in recent wins meant that these teams came back later in the game and managed to level some of the underlying numbers. I assume that if you have a negative CF or xG differential after holding an opponent against a shot in the first shot, that you still have something to do and you are still lucky enough to have you after that Game got away with a win all the way back to the opponent. The less under Keefe, the more likely it’s the same lesson fans wanted to learn from the Leafs under Babcock, and that means they’re not strong enough across the line-up to aggressively take their feet off the gas.
The Montreal win was probably a little more punitive, and the Leafs were given power games at the right time and used the capital to get back into the game. Penalties weren’t just a factor in the opener as the Leafs only had three games with 5 vs 5 GF% over 50% and had a cheap goal differential for special teams in 4 of those games with a GF% of 50 or less. The Leafs have only one game in which their opponents have outperformed them on special teams (the first loss to Edmonton) and only one game this season in which the Leafs had more power play opportunities than their opponent (the season opener). In contrast, there have been five games this season where the Leafs’ opponent had the advantage in power plays.
While it seems too early to blame the players, the bottom six of the Leafs strikers seem to struggle the most with their 5v5 numbers. Kerfoot, Simmonds, Spezza, Barabanov and Engvall all have under 40% expected goals%, and Thornton, Hyman, Nylander and Matthews are the only Leafs strikers over 50%.
With Corsi For% as the barrier, the picture improves but still points to a fourth line that is absolutely peeled. Barabanov, Spezza, Brooks, Boyd, and Anderson are the Leafs’ top performers, but the most troubling one could be who is right above them and that is the pairing of Brodie and Rielly that should definitely drive the puck the other way.
The lessons learned from the first ten games are likely to be the first ten games. After a long absence and no preseason, a sloppy hockey had to be played at the beginning of the year, and the Leafs and teams like her had to resort to skill and talent to stay afloat. They did that. The challenge will be that the systems in the North Division will tighten and the teams will have a lot more films to study about the Leafs. Also, they will be able to streamline their game and adapt to the style of play required to beat their opponents.
There are sure to be some rough spots in the remaining 46 games, and while the Leafs weren’t great at the moment, we can celebrate that they’ve avoided having negative consequences, and in fact, they’ve built a rather comfortable buffer that carries them through the season.
Data from Natural Stat Trick and Hockey Reference