2013 NHL Playoffs: Which Team Should The Leafs Hope To Play First Round?

Mar 16, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel (81) tries to slow up Winnipeg Jets forward Evander Kane (9) at the Air Canada Centre. Winnipeg defeated Toronto 5-4 in an overtime shoot out. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Barring an epic collapse of Boston Red Sox-like proportions, the Toronto Maple Leafs will make the playoffs for the first time in eight years. As of today, the Maple Leafs are in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, nine points ahead of the ninth-place Winnipeg Jets with six games left in the regular season. But now that the Leafs are on the verge (knock on wood) of locking up a spot in the Stanley Cup tournament, the question on everyone’s mind is: Which team should the Leafs be hoping to draw in the first round?

First of all, I think it would be beneficial to look at the teams in the playoff picture and their remaining schedules to gain a better understanding of who’s likely to move up or down in the standings. The following chart was adapted from an excellent piece I read recently from Ben Golliver at Sports Illustrated’s Point Forward blog. While Ben focuses on the battle between the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz for the remaining playoff spot in the NBA’s Western Conference, this chart focuses on the nine teams I still feel have a legitimate shot at playing playoff hockey in the East. (Sorry Buffalo and New Jersey.) Included are games remaining, how many of those games are against opponents currently in the playoffs, how many are home or away, back-to-back sets (when two games are played on consecutive nights), and remaining strength of schedule as calculated by the average points of all remaining opponents. I also included regulation and overtime wins (ROW), because it is the first tiebreaker when all teams have played the same amount of games.

Team

Points

ROW

Remain

Playoffs

Home

Away

B2B

RSOS

Pittsburgh

64

29

6

3

3

3

1

46.5

Montreal

57

23

6

3

2

4

1

44.3

Washington

48

20

6

5

4

2

0

50.7

Boston

56

22

7

3

5

2

0

44

Toronto

53

24

6

4

2

4

0

44.8

Ottawa

48

17

7

5

5

2

1

48.6

NYI

47

18

6

2

1

5

1

40.3

NYR

46

17

7

0

3

4

1

37

Winnipeg

44

20

6

2

4

2

1

44.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rangers’ remaining strength of schedule is laughably bad. By some gift of the NHL’s schedule maker, they get to play the Eastern Conference bottom-feeder Florida Panthers twice in their final seven games. The Islanders’ RSOS isn’t much better, but only one of their last six games are at home, and the Rangers hold a game in hand. The Leafs play easier opponents than the Senators, but have to play two more games on the road, and have one less game remaining. The Boston Bruins have a good opportunity to leapfrog the Canadiens for first in the Northeast division with more games at home and an easier strength of schedule. The most likely scenario for the Maple Leafs would be a 4-5 matchup against the Habs. That would be fun, wouldn’t it?

The most intriguing race to watch out of these teams looks to be the battle for the Southeast division crown. The Capitals hold a four-point lead over the Jets, but have the most difficult RSOS out of these nine teams. Both teams also play four games at home. Either way, the Jets could cause some serious disruption in the playoff picture if they string some wins together.

Now to answer the question: Just how good are these teams? The following chart takes a look at some statistics that will give us an idea. The stats are goal differential, even-strength save percentage (Even SV%) by the team’s starting goaltender, and Fenwick close percentage (FenClose%).  I chose even-strength save percentage because it’s a much better predictor of a team’s goaltending than overall save percentage, given the unpredictable circumstances during power plays and shorthanded situations. I decided to look only at the team’s starting goaltender because you’re not likely to see a backup in the playoffs unless the starter gets hurt. Finally, Fenwick is a metric for shot attempt differential excluding blocked shots. Fenwick close percentage measures only when the game is tied or within one goal in the first two periods or tied in the third period. It’s proven to be an excellent proxy for puck possession and is probably the best predictor we have at the team level right now. Teams with a FenClose over 50 per cent have the puck more than their opponent in close or tied situations and are generally above-average teams.

Team

Points

Goal Diff.

Even SV%

FenClose%

Record vs. Leafs

Goal Diff. vs. Leafs

Pittsburgh

64

+39

93.59

50.75

1-1-1-0

-1

Montreal

57

+24

92.73

53.57

1-3-0-0

-8

Washington

48

+11

92.93

47.53

0-2-0-0

-2

Boston

56

+25

93.40

53.45

2-1-1-0

+1

Toronto

51

+17

92.66

45.16

Ottawa

48

+12

95.20

51.05

1-3-0-0

-6

NYI

47

-3

91.66

51.17

1-0-0-1

+2

NYR

46

+4

93.73

53.09

1-1-1-0

+2

Winnipeg

44

-14

91.57

50.13

1-1-1-0

+2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goaltending is so important in the playoffs, and the East has an abundance of strong goaltenders. I found it surprising that Braden Holtby’s numbers for the Capitals are actually better than Carey Price’s and James Reimers’ this season. He’s definitely recovered well from his slow start. The Habs and Bruins are the two strongest possession teams in the East and both have excellent goaltending. Although the Leafs have had success against the Habs this season, they still would clearly not be the favourites in a seven-game series. I don’t think any team wants to face the New York Rangers right now. They have outstanding goaltending in Henrik Lundqvist and are the third-best possession team in the East. The issue with them all season has been scoring goals, but if they get hot in the playoffs, look out.

The most likely teams for the Leafs to face in the first round are Montreal, Boston and Washington. If we’re picking between those three, I’d have to believe the Leafs would want to play the Capitals. Alexander Ovechkin is having a stellar season and Holtby is no slouch in net, but overall, the team doesn’t keep possession very well. If I had to pick a dark horse candidate it would be the Winnipeg Jets. They have an easier schedule than Washington the rest of the way and could make a move. If the Jets overtake the Capitals and grab the third seed, and the Leafs fall to sixth, that would set up a Jets-Leafs first round matchup. Given the Jets’ goaltending situation with Ondrej Pavelec, I’ll take that matchup in a heartbeat.

Topics: 2013 NHL Playoffs, Toronto Maple Leafs

Want more from Editor In Leaf?  
Subscribe to FanSided Daily for your morning fix. Enter your email and stay in the know.