The Toronto Maple Leafs have won two in a row, and it’s hard not to think that it could have been ten if not for losing two of the best games they played all year, last week to Calgary and Vancouver.
Of course, the Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t “deserve” to win many of the games they actually won, so people often question if it’s worth complaining about games like last week in Calgary/Vancouver where they had over 100 shots while allowing just 50, across both games.
The difference – to my mind (and I’ve got the megaphone) – is that the Leafs have built a roster that allows them to win games they don’t deserve to, and frequently.
Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares allow you to score enough goals to win games you don’t deserve to win. The same thing happens to every team at the top of the standings. There is no way you can ever deserve to win 70+ percent of your games, but the teams that are either really lucky or really good win lots of games they don’t deserve to.
None of those teams, however, are named the Flames or the Canucks, hence the frustration at not having a ten game win streak. (stats from naturalstattrick.com).
Toronto Maple Leafs and the NHL Standings
Last night’s game was a great example. I thought the Leafs had one of their worst games of the year. I think they actually played better against Pittsburgh earlier in the year in a game where they lost (you will remember the Leafs dominated a game when suddenly the Penguins scored twice in succession and the Leafs seemed to give up).
Be that as it may, when you get a performance such as Jack Campbell gave last night, you don’t really need to play well.
The Penguins had the puck for most of the night, they had way more shots and chances, and they nearly doubled the Leafs in high-danger chances. The Leafs finished with a 36% expected goals rating, their worst of the year.
The Penguins can definitely complain about this one.
A rough night was had by one of my personal favorites, Rasmus Sandin, who did absolutely nothing to dispel thoughts that his success is related to playing on the 3rd pairing. Still, can’t blame him too much when pretty much every defenseman did just as badly.
The reason the Toronto Maple Leafs won, was Jack Campbell. Campbell, who had no choice but to regress drastically after posting bizarre stats in the calendar year of 2021, has been ice cold of late.
Tanner’s Law of Goaltending
The Leafs are now fifth overall by points percentage, as well as 20th overall in 5v5 save percentage. The fact that they are 15 places higher than their 5v5 save percentage ranking makes them the best team in the league, according to Tanner’s Law of Goaltending which was coined by a different Tanner.
"Tanner’s Law of Goaltending states that the bigger the gap between a team’s points-percentage and their 5v5 goaltending, the better the team is likely to perform in the future."
The reason that this works is because 5v5 save percentage is pretty much random. Goalie performance fluctuates wildly and can’t be predicted. The most valuable player at the end of every season – by total wins – is almost always a goalie, and therefore, if goalie’s were predictable, it would always be the same goalie, and that goalie would be more valuable and famous than McDavid, or Crosby or Matthews. By virtue of the fact that the “best” player in the NHL is NEVER a goalie, this system is foolproof.
Because any random goalie can get hot, or cold, the teams that are the best teams independent of goalies are the best teams in reality.
Here are the top 10 teams and their 5v5 save percentage ranking, I have highlighted the teams that Tanner’s Law of Goaltending respects because they are higher in the standings than they are in the 5v5 save percentage rankings.
"Colorado 7thFlorida 14thCarolina 13thTB 11thToronto 20thMinnesota 18thPenguins 4thNew York 2ndCalgary 3rdSt Louis 10th"
As we can see, all six of the NHL’s top teams are out-performing their goaltending, which suggests that all six of these teams are extremely good teams. The fact that Toronto and Minnesota are doing so well despite their below average goaltending, however, is an extremely good sign for their future. The reason is because they will probably get better goaltending in the future than they are getting right now.
The Leafs are the 4th worst goaltending team in the NHL since January 1st, and have the 5th best record. Assuming that their goaltending will improve from 4th last is not much of an assumption – it’s practically guaranteed. In conjunction, their regular 5v5 team play is not likely to fluctuate much, if at all, barring significant injuries or personnel changes.
If a team can be the fifth best, despite being the 4th worst at arguably the most important facet of the game, that is a good team. Tanner’s Law says the Toronto Maple Leafs are likely to be the best team in hockey in the near future.