Toronto Maple Leafs Defensive Game Is Significantly Better This Year

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 10: Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock looks on from the bench at an NHL game against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the first period at the Scotiabank Arena on October 10, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 10: Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock looks on from the bench at an NHL game against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the first period at the Scotiabank Arena on October 10, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs are not known as a good defensive team.

Last year, the Toronto Maple Leafs led the entire NHL in total scoring chances, but were 28th in total scoring chances against.

They played a high-event, fun to watch style that relied on their scoring talent to beat opponents.

This summer, they acquired one of the NHL’s best statistical defensive forwards in Alex Kerfoot, and the team moved out deadweight like Patrick Marleau, Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev.

Though the Toronto Maple Leafs are in no way a defensive juggernaut, (and in no way, given their roster, should they want to be) but they have made some very significant defensive improvements to their team this year.

The low save percentage of the Toronto goalies and some extreme hyberbolic reactions to a slow start have conspired to hide this fact from general discourse about the team.

The statistical analysis below – while no means exhaustive or conclusive – paints the picture of a team that has made some excellent strides defensively without taking away from their main strength – which is being an offensive powerhouse.

Toronto Maple Leafs Statistical Analysis

All Stats below are “rate stats” which means they are meant to show what the team does over 60 minutes of 5v5 hockey, were most of the game is played.

Think of special teams as a bonus, and 5v5 play as the foundation of a winning team.  All stats from

Corsi-For/60 (shot-attempts per 60 minutes of 5v5 icetime)

                Last Year   64.58 (3rd)

This Year   61.24 (3rd)


                 Last Year 60.26 (30th)

This Year 54.92 (12th)

Notes: Shot Attempts are especially beneficial for analysis this early in the year because they quickly build up a large reliable sample size, as there are obviously going to be more shot-attempts than shots, scoring chances or goals.

The Leafs are attempting less shots (just slightly, and staying near the top of the league) but are allowing significantly less attempts and have moved from second worst in the NHL to above the middle of the pack.

They might be attempting a few less shots, but they’re getting  a better differential. To go from 30th to 12th is massive.

Shots-For /60

Last Year 31.96 (12th)

This Year 31.58  (12th)

Shots-Against/ 60

          Last Year 33.01  (29th)

This Year  30.42  (18th)

Notes: The Leafs are maintaining their shot-pace from last year, but have significantly shaved off almost three shots per hour against.  Last year they allowed more shots than they had, which is a recipe for disaster because if you’re goalie is off, you’re in trouble. They have gone from a -1.05 differential to a +1.16

Scoring Chances For /60

        Last Year 32.32 (1st)

This Year 27.89 (5th)   

Scoring Chances Against/60

Last Year 28.54 (25th)

This Year 23.94 (8th)

Notes: Keeping in mind that the sample size for scoring chances is smaller than shots and shot-attempts, and thus less predictive and meaningful, the Leafs are getting just over four fewer chances, while still staying at the top of the league.

They are allowing almost four less chances per hour.  Shots, Corsi and Goals do not show the same drop in quantity that scoring chances do, so i think we are safe to be happy with the fact they’re allowing less scoring chances without being too worried that they’re getting less themselves.

Goals For /60

  Last Year 3.03 (2nd)  9.47% Shooting Percentage (3rd)

  This Year 2.92 (8th)    9.37% Shooting Percentage (8th)

Goals Against / 60

Last Year 2.5 (18th)    92.43% Save Percentage  (7th)

This Year  2.84 (23rd)  90.65% Save Percentage  (24th)

   Note:  Goals have the smallest sample size of all our stats here, and it’s only 15 games into the season so this is by far the least reliable measurement presented here.  The Leafs have improved their defense across the board without seeming to sacrifice much, if any, offense.

They are scoring roughly the same as they did last year, and they’re getting the same shooting percentage.  The slight drop can easily be explained by having a 47 goals scorer miss half the games so far.

They have allowed more goals than they did last year, but the save percentage is very low. Those two percentage points make a massive difference and the Leafs save percentage is highly probable to finish closer to last year’s than this year’s current level by the end of the season.

It’s important to realize that the save percentage was under .900 before last night’s game, and it has already corrected a great deal from just a few games ago when it was hovering around 88%.

Overall, and keeping in mind that it’s only 15 games into the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs appear to have significantly improved their defensive game while maintaining their high-level offense.

This is a very important development and bodes well for the team going forward. In light of their injury troubles and schedule, the odds are they will be one of the top teams in the league this year.

Next. Leafs Top Ten Prospects. dark

As much as there are certain things Mike Babcock does that drive you nuts (power-play, Cody Ceci, etc) you have to hand it to him so far this year. The Leafs seem to have eliminated stretch passes and glass chips from their game plan while focusing on breaking out with shorter, quicker passes and it really seems to be paying off.

This year’s team is way better than last year’s, and it hasn’t even had a run with a full roster and normal schedule yet. Expect good things.