What Has Led to the Toronto Maple Leafs' Turnaround?
If there was any doubt that the Toronto Maple Leafs were not going to be real players in the NHL landscape this season -- it has all disappeared by now.
The Leafs are holding to the promise that they made early this season -- a promise stating that they would make noise, they would surprise some teams, and that they would make the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- and with just about ten games to go in their season, the probability of fulfillment of this pre season statement is incredibly likely.
A win on Monday against the division rival Boston Bruins has put Toronto in a favorable place as they currently sit one one point behind the Bruins for sole possession of third place in the Atlantic Division, with with advantages of three and four points, respectively, over their next closest competitors, the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning.
When Goaltending Goes Right
Fans of the Maple Leafs would be the first to tell anyone that Frederik Andersen is one of the key catalysts to the success of the Maple Leafs this season. Since his arrival in the offseason, his play has only positively impacted the results of Toronto's season.
In charts from HockeyViz, it can be seen that Andersen has produced at better than average personal levels, and we can also see that over the last 25 games - Toronto has been ahead of the curve in both 5-versus-5 and special teams goaltending aspects, which are keys to success for any NHL team.
Per Corsica's goalie function, Andersen has also performed well in danger situations.
|Low-Danger Save Percentage||98.65||3rd|
|High-Danger Save Percentage||82.58||10th|
|Goals Saved Above Average||11.24||9th|
|Corsi Save Percentage||95.66||14th|
|Average Distance of Shot||29.41 feet||5th|
These stats may not seem too tantalizing, but what it is showing us is that under circumstances of high pressure -- and in close-range shots, the most likely kind of shot Toronto is allowing -- Andersen is performing at a better-than-average percentage.
This location chart, which comes from HockeyViz, shows us the relative locations from which Toronto allows shots -- further proving our data analysis of Andersen's performance. The only omitted data in this study was in medium-location shots, where Andersen is near the bottom of the pack. (This stat shows relevance to rush defense.)
The "House" area of Toronto's defensive zone, the area in between the faceoff dots and the hash marks, shows a relatively high unblocked shot rate relative to the league average. That gives us the large sample size that we used to determine Andersen's positive save percentage in this danger situation.
Concurrently, we can see that Toronto gives up a relatively large number of shots in the area closest to the blue line. Those attempts are generally defined as Low-Danger shots, a category in which Andersen also excels.
The Kids Are Alright
The potluck of draft picks that Toronto has had in the past three years have given them the rebuild they have been looking for as Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner and William Nylander have played like season veterans at their young ages. It is also important to note the play of Connor Brown and Zach Hyman, who are also making noise in their rookie seasons.
Having five rookies with adequate talent is one thing, but having five rookies playing at the level these young Maple Leafs are playing is truly something special.
This scoring race chart, which comes from HockeyViz, shows us the highest producing rookies in the NHL this season. We can see Matthews, Marner and Nylander taking up 75% of the top four spots -- with Brown and Hyman finding themselves in the top 25, as well. This chart is based on goals, primary assists and noise (secondary assists).
With this many of their youngsters in the top 25 in scoring, it is no surprise that Toronto is performing incredibly well this season, and they find themselves in the mix to reach the divisional round of the playoffs.
If the level of play that Toronto has produced since the end of their recent California trip continues, they have a real chance to move up in the Atlantic Division standings. The Maple Leafs could catch the Bruins, which would give them sole possession of third place in the Atlantic, as mentioned earlier.
A finish of that caliber would result in a series against the current No. 2 team in the division, the Ottawa Senators. For Toronto, this is a much better draw than finishing in the second wild card position as a finish in that spot would leave them to face whichever powerhouse wins the Metropolitan Division -- that being the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins or Columbus Blue Jackets, all of which possess a chance to claim the Presidents' Trophy.
Our metrics currently give Toronto a 67.60% chance to make the playoffs, a percentage which is only increasing as the Leafs continue to win games. They are expected to finish the season, per our numbers, with a record of 38-27-17, which would give them a total of 93.0 points. As it stands right now, Boston is projected to finish with a record of 43-32-7 giving them a an estimated total of 93.8 points.
If Toronto could string a few more wins together on their current streak of 5-1-1, we could be seeing a battle between Ottawa and Toronto in the opening round of this year's playoffs, and a series between these two teams would be nothing shy of great hockey.
But regardless of how the rest of this season plays out, the Leafs have turned the corner and appear to be in great shape for the future.