The Toronto Maple Leafs have switched up their power play lines in the hopes of scoring more goals with the man advantage.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have only scored 25 power play goals this year, in 42 games, which is good for 14th overall. For perspective, the Avalanche have 43 goals in 44 games.
Tampa leads the NHL with an almost 30% power play, while the Leafs are a decent eight with 22.3% efficiency. Clearly this shows the Leafs pp is not what it could be, but also that they aren’t drawing nearly enough penalties.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are dead last in the NHL in times on the power-play, with only 112 opportunities compared to the NHL leaders, the Avalanche, who have had 166.
The Leafs have decided to mix up their power play in the hopes of scoring more, and before I get into why that’s the wrong move, I’m going to talk for a bit about the lack of opportunities they’re getting.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are last in power play opportunities, which actually makes some sense when you think about it.
For starters, the personnel on the power-play is the best in the NHL. Matthews, Marner, Kadri, Tavares and Rielly is a crazy lineup, and other teams are afraid of it. That means they are careful not to take penalties against the Leafs. When game planning for a game against Toronto, the main message the other team’s coach has to send is to stay out of the box.
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Secondly, the Leafs are a run-and-gun team who do not play a very physically aggressive game. The Leafs might be last in times on the power-play, but they also take the least penalties in the NHL.
So the Leafs aren’t playing very physically, their opponents are trying to avoid penalties, and it has the effect of making penalties in a Leafs game a pretty rare thing.
Furthermore, it’s working out for the Leafs in the sense that they are second in the NHL in 5v5 scoring, both in raw numbers and as a per game rate. They also have the best goals-for percentage at 5v5 in the NHL.
While their shot rates and possession numbers are not the best, if the Leafs continue on as they have been then they are the best 5v5 team in the NHL.
Given their star power, and the fact that they are probably getting a boost because teams are afraid of taking a penalty against them, I think they may be able to at least come close to maintaining this.
Now back to the Power-Play
Toronto Maple Leafs Power Play
The Leafs haven’t scored a power-play goal since December 28th vs Columbus. That is four straight games where the power-play didn’t score. If you remember that back in December, they also had a period where they went something like 1 for 30 on the PP.
So basically, they aren’t scoring.
And, to remedy that, Mike Babcock has changed up the lines. He has put Kapanen in Matthews spot and put Matthews on the second unit, to try to get more balance.
On the surface, this makes sense, because if something isn’t working, you might as well try and fix it. Also, with Matthews off the first unit, you don’t have the problem of tiring out all three lines at once. Finally, since the Leafs distribute ice time on the PP fairly evenly, they might as well go with balance.
But I think that’s where they go wrong.
They shouldn’t be trying to balance anything. They should stack the first unit with Matthews, Tavares, Marner, Rielly and Nylander (or Johnsson) instead of Kadri, and then play that for nearly the full two minutes.
If Kadri isn’t on the first PP, they can be the first line on the ice afterwards, eliminating one of their problems. (i.e that with 3 x centres on the PP, they have to get them off the ice after one minute).
But getting more PP time to their best players is how they’ll score more goals, not breaking up an allstar unit. Their new plan is to put Matthews on a more balanced second unit, which is only going to serve to limit his ice time further, which is the exact opposite of a good idea.
If we look at the Leafs power play, they have a 91% possession rating, tops in the NHL. With limited opportunities, we can expect some wild fluctuations in success, and I think the fact that they have the puck on the PP more than any other team in the NHL shows that the goals will come in time.
They have been ringing them off the post, getting robbed by great goalies, and just getting generally unlucky.
They are second (just barely out of first) in the NHL in shots per 60 minutes of PP time, and they lead the league by an incredible amount in scoring chances per 60 minutes of ice time – they get 78 scoring chances per 60 minutes and the second place team in the NHL gets 57.
So they shouldn’t be messing with this, just giving it more opportunity.
Because of the sample size we are working with here, the scoring chances and the shots have much bigger sample sizes than the goals do. This means that it is far more likely that the Leafs are getting unlucky on the power-play rather than teams having figured them out or some other such nonsense.
The Toronto Maple Leafs do not need to fix their power play, all they need is patience to wait until it starts clicking like the stats say it almost certainly will.
If there is one change they should make, it’s not personnel, it’s length of time their best players get on the PP. Babcock should, at the very least, keep Rielly and Matthews on the ice for the full two minutes, every single time.
Nathan MacKinnon plays 4:18 PP minutes per game, while Auston Matthews gets only 2:37. Among centres, MacKinnon is first, while Matthews is 54th. That is ridiculous.
Even accounting for the Leafs lack of PP opportunities, he shouldn’t be the 54th most used centre in the NHL on the power-play.
That’s one thing Babcock should fix. The rest of it? It will work itself out in time.
The numbers guarantee it.
Stats from espn.com