Do the Leafs really get “Goalied” more than other teams?

Last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs lost a very close, and at the end, extremely exciting 2-1 game to the New York Rangers. The “Big Four” were all engaged, including a returning Auston Matthews. Michael Bunting put up his second goal in as many games. Everything was generally great, except for that dastardly Igor Shesterkin. The 25-year-old, entering his third NHL season, stole the show with 40 saves on 41 shots, in a game where Toronto outshot the Rangers in all three periods for a total of 41 pucks on net to 23, including a 17-2 differential in the second period.

As many would say, the Leafs got “goalied”. Yes, in a game that requires so much skill, results of individual games and small stretches can rely so much on shooting and save percentage, which are a product of both finishing and puck stopping. You’re often at the mercy of someone’s hot or cold streak, and it can feel like nothing matters when it happens.

In Toronto, there is a feeling that the Leafs get “goalied” more than other teams. The fact that Carey Price (0.932 in 7 games in 2021) and Joonas Korpisalo (0.956 in 4 games in 2020) more or less stole the Leafs’ last two playoff series away from them certainly hasn’t helped, but there is a long standing idea that every goaltender shows up to dominate the Maple Leafs like they’re Prime Dominik Hasek. Certainly, the discourse makes it feel that way. But is it actually that way?

An easy place to head would be end-of-season shooting percentage, which suggests that Toronto has no trouble putting the puck in the net. The Leafs currently sit 30th in the league in the metric at 5.4%. But according to Natural Stat Trick‘s data, the team ranked seventh at 10.6% last year, have ranked third over the past three years at 10.4%, and maintain that spot when looking at the whole “Actually Good” era, finishing on 10.2% of their shots. This means that the average goaltender that the Leafs face actually ends up with about a 0.898 SV%; far from getting goalied every day.

But what if it’s just that the team picks certain times to get goalied, and does it a lot? I was curious about this too, so I used Hockey Reference‘s team game finder to see how many times in those past five seasons, with this general core of top players, have the Leafs put themselves in this position.

I used a bunch of different parameters – goalies keeping it to X amount of goalies, how many shots were poured on, whether the team shooting kept it defensively sound, and what the general record is when certain volume thresholds are met. Here’s what I got:

  • 30+ shots, 1 or fewer goals: 31 times (29th). Leader: Montreal (58 Times)
  • 40+ shots, 1 or fewer goals: 8 times (T-9th). Leader: Montreal (12 times)
  • 50+ shots, 1 or fewer goals: 2 times (1st). Leader: Toronto (2 times)
  • 30+ shots, 2 or fewer goals: 88 times (15th). Leaders: Buffalo, Florida (109 times)
  • 40+ shots, 2 or fewer goals: 18 times (T-7th). Leader: Florida (30 times)
  • 50+ shots, 2 or fewer goals: 2 times (T-1st). Leaders: Boston, Calgary, Florida, Toronto (2 Times)
  • 30+ shots, loss: 118 times (8th). Leader: Florida (138 Times)
  • 40+ shots, loss: 30 times (3rd). Leader: Florida (41 Times)
  • 50+ shots, loss: 4 times (1st). Leader: Toronto (4 Times)
  • 30+ shots, 20 or fewer shots against, loss: 4 times (21st): Leader: Carolina (13 times)
  • 40+ shots, 25 or fewer shots against, loss: 8 times (T-6th): Leader: Carolina (37 times)
  • 50+ shots, 30 or fewer shots against, loss: 2 times (T-2nd). Leader: Philadelphia (3 times)
  • 30+ shots, record: 249 times (5th). 131-79-39, 0.604 (7th). League Average: 0.563
  • 40+ shots, record: 56 times (6th). 26-20-10, 0.554 (19th). League Average: 0.572
  • 50+ shots, record: 7 times (1st). 3-4-0, 0.429 (16th). League Average: 0.582

So on the surface, it seems like there are plenty of other teams that hit brick walls, particularly in the 30+ shot zone, which includes a lot of the “very good” nights instead of just the downright explosive ones.

You do see, though, that the Leafs have the most misfortune when they get to 50+ shots. They’re the only team to be kept to one goal for or fewer when taking 50 shots twice in the last five seasons, no team has lost more games when taking that many, and only Philadelphia has lost more times while also having a decent grip of the defensive end.

All the same, we’re talking about two times of being goalied at the 50+ shot threshold in 372 games. Even at 40 shots, we’re still talking about something that happens about 5% of the time. So why does it feel so much worse? Here are three quick things to consider:

  • Losses mean something different now. While the team is still struggling to find playoff success, there shouldn’t be any doubt that on a game-by-game basis, the environment and expectation is a lot different. In the five years previous to the sample used above, Toronto had the fourth-fewest wins in the NHL. Losing was normal and expected. In the five since, they’ve posted the sixth-most wins. A loss that was once insult to injury is now something crucial to the team’s late-season aspirations, and all adversity actually feels like something to work on to get to a Stanley Cup, rather than just something to laugh off and watch again two days later. Simply put, the losses feel tougher because they are fewer and mean more, and because you rightfully expect the team to be competitive or victorious in more games.
  • Score effects are a thing. Those who like to go through stats sites that are more analytically inclined will often notice that there’s an option to make the numbers “score-adjusted”. This is because most teams tend to naturally shift their games to the situation around them. A trailing team will put on more pressure, throw more pucks at the net, and try everything they can to get back into a game, while a team defending their lead might be more cautious in it’s offensive approach and collapse into their own zone a bit, looking to shield quality attempts away. Generally, there’s a threshold where most teams can break through with enough control of the game, even when luck is against them, but this is why it’s not uncommon to see nights where teams pepper a netminder but still ose.
  • It’s harder to get goalied when you’re bad. This seems kind of backwards at first glance, since you assume that good teams win, but similar to the first point – is the bad team good enough to get goalied? If you’re a bottom-barrel team, are you staying in the game on most nights where the opposing goalie is hot? Are you dynamic enough to make the other goalie stand on their head, or are they just getting saves by dump-ins? To get goalied requires pressure, and to get goalied frequently means you’re probably a strong hockey team. Would you like it to happen less? Obviously. Should you always work on ways to eliminate it? For sure. Are these nights 100% preventable, though? Probably not. They’re still an inevitability every once in a while.
  • There are 31 other teams. I find this point gets lost on people in Toronto more than it does in other markets, due to the sheer volume of the coverage the Maple Leafs get. Every situation is amplified, every bit of discourse reaches out like a spider web. But a lot of Leafs problems aren’t exclusive to them. The Alex Bishop thing on Saturday? Colorado played a skater short, and 14 teams are at the ceiling and would be impacted by the multiple non-IR setbacks Toronto had at once. Is Timothy Liljegren a good enough 7D? Even the most obsessed couldn’t name the 7D on more than a handful of teams. Do the Leafs get goalied to an unusual degree, or do we just not notice when it happens to others?

My overall feeling on this is pretty simple: Toronto has definitely had a few nights where they can’t buy a goal, and it’s cost them some tough games, including postseason games in recent history. I don’t think it’s to a degree, however, where someone could declare it an abnormality compared to the rest of the league. More likely, very good team who can find ways to stay competitive even in losses where the opposing netminder is sharp, and because expectations are high and the spotlight is bright, we tend to focus more on them than when it happens with others.

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