The Toronto Maple Leafs are in second place in the NHL standings.
And yet, somehow, the Toronto Maple Leafs remain 15 points behind the first place Tampa Bay Lightning.
Now, this might seem like a daunting number. It might serve to discourage people from believing that the Leafs can win, because they might think that Tampa is some kind of unstoppable force.
And they might be. But they probably aren’t.
I think the Leafs are just as good. Probably better.
It’s a Pretty Soft 15 Point Lead
Tampa may seem like a juggernaut, but if you do the comparisons, the future bodes well for the Leafs being able to beat them if it comes down to it.
Tampa has played one extra game, has one extra loser point, and they have won four of their games in a shoot-out. Not to take anything away from what they’ve done, but this does explain away at least six points in the standings as being somewhat flukey.
The Leafs and Tampa have a virtually identical 5v5 possession rating, and the Leafs have scored more at 5v5 and have a better 5v5 scoring differential.
Additionally, Tampa has scored on over 20% of their power play shots, while the Leafs have shot only 11%. The peripheral numbers – numbers which will predict the future better than just basing your prediction of goals – suggest that the Leafs have the better power-play because it possesses the puck more and produces more scoring chances.
If we look at injuries (and holdouts), the Leafs missed William Nylander for 20 games, Matthews for 15 or so games, and played an extended time with their third string goalie. Other than an injury to their starting goalie Tampa has been fairly healthy.
They also got lucky when their backup goalie, Louis Domingue, a player who couldn’t make the Arizona Coyotes, performed at the same exact level of Andrei Vasilevskiy, who is arguably the best goalie in the NHL. The odds of that actually happening are astronomical.
Contrast this to Kadri and Matthews going on simultaneous slumps where they each scored a single goal in twelve games. The odds of that ever happening again are basically nil.
These numbers and occurrences have produced the current NHL standings . Standings where Tampa is way ahead of the Leafs. However, the Leafs added Muzzin, and Nylander has come around. They are only now icing their best lineup.
I submit to you that while Tampa is 15 points ahead, and that it is nearly impossible for the Leafs to catch them, they should not be considered a favorite over the Leafs.
I think the 15 points are explained away by the following:
- One Extra Loser Point
- One Extra game played
- Four shoot-out wins
- Jake Muzzin
- Matthews/Kadri scoring streaks over
- Nylander back to star status
- 5v5 stats suggest even teams
- Tampa power-play inflated shooting percentage
- Leafs power-play unlucky low shooting percentage
- Tampa plays Dan Giradri and Ryan Callahan
- Rosters are fairly evenly matched otherwise
All I am saying is that while it is easy to look at a 15 point difference in the standings and assume that Tampa is this unbeatable force that is way better than the Leafs, and I don’t think it’s true.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are just as good. I think Tampa is a very, very soft 15 points ahead. I think the Leafs were hurt by weird things (PP, Matthews and Kadri slump, Nylander hold-out) that won’t reoccur and whose absence will change the balances of power in the future.
The Leafs should not be considered an inferior team.
standings from NHL.com
stats from naturalstattrick.com