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What We Learned: Leafs, Jets and how goaltenders make or break a season

Ryan Lambert
Puck Daddy
Reimer
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TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 11 - Leafs' goalie James Reimer makes the save during a promo photo shoot at the opening of Toronto Maple Leafs camp, at the Mastercard Centre. September 11, 2013. (Bernard Weil/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets played each other on Saturday night on a game that turned out to be of great significance to the former, for reasons they'd probably like to forget.

All the Leafs had to do, following wins over Calgary and — of all teams — Boston, was continue winning right on through to the end of the season to essentially guarantee themselves a playoff spot. It wouldn't be easy, but this was arguably the easiest leg of the four-game sojourn to the team's first postseason in an 82-game campaign in the last nine years. The Jets had already been eliminated from the postseason in the cutthroat Western Conference, and were starting their skating disaster of a goaltender, and had healthy-scratched Evander Kane for reasons that have still, to this point, not been made entirely clear, or at least explicit.

The game looked like it was going about as well as could be expected for much of the first period, as (who but?) Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri scored twice and James Reimer held up solidly against an 11-shot barrage. But then Jacob Trouba leveled for the Jets with just four seconds left in the period, and everything really and truly fell apart. The Jets outshot their hosts, a team that should have been painfully desperate to get any points at all, 41-25 in the game, and won 4-2.

During one of the intermission interviews, captain Andrew Ladd was asked about the team's role as “spoiler” the rest of the way, and this indeed was about as much of a spoiler as it could play. The Leafs now not only need to run the table to make the playoffs, but they also can't have seen Columbus pick up more than five points from their five remaining games (one of which was played yesterday).

What this game did, though — apart from effectively bouncing the Leafs from the playoffs and perhaps costing Randy Carlyle his job — was highlight the ways in which the Leafs' and Jets' seasons have been dictated so heavily by goaltending, perhaps more so than any other teams in the National Hockey League.

For the Jets, the inability of Ondrej Pavelec to stop the puck at anything resembling a passably respectable rate has essentially cost them a playoff spot not only this year, but since they moved to Winnipeg. They've been above water in terms of possession in each of the last three seasons, and during that time have ranked 26th, 12th, and 23rd, respectively in even-strength save percentage with the score close. You can chalk some of that up to Claude Noel's famous “free pizzas” that may or may not have been allowed by his system, or you can chalk it up to a guy with a .906 career save percentage holding back what should otherwise have probably been a playoff team. During those three years, the Jets have missed the playoffs by eight, four, and currently seven points, all of which would have been made far more possible by league-average goaltending.

Meanwhile, Pavelec has led the league in goals conceded in each of the last three seasons (191, 119, 163), despite the fact that Winnipeg has been solidly in the middle of the pack in terms of shots allowed per game in each of them (15th, 17th, 18th). He has definitively hurt this team immeasurably, and is likely the only reason they're remotely bad.

Statistically, if the Jets got league-average goaltending in Pavelec's 159 appearances over the last three seasons, they would have allowed 16, 9, and 20 fewer goals. That translates to about five, three, and seven points in the standings. It should be noted, too, that the team also got sub-average goaltending from their backups in 20112-12 and 2013, but if the Jets are going to spend much of the summer looking for someone to blame for their woes, it's good that eyes are finally starting to settle on Pavelec as the reason why they've been so bad.

The title “Buyout Candidate” should precede all uses of his name for the remainder of the season.

On the other side of the coin are the Maple Leafs, who were really only hanging around the playoff picture at all because of the stellar performances being turned in by Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer for the bulk of the season.

Bernier's .923 is still ninth in the NHL, and until Reimer's descent to at least the fifth circle of regression hell around mid-January, his numbers were he, too, had been hovering well above league average (.924). During those first three months of the season, the Leafs racked up 45 points in 41 games. That's a pace for 90 points, which might end up being about the cutoff point for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference this season, ugly as it's been.

Of course, that means that since that time, the Leafs have accrued 39 points from 38 games, an 84-point pace. That may not seem like that big of a drop-off, but in reality six points is the difference that comes from allowing about 18 additional goals. League average save percentage this year is .913, and for the Leafs to even get to a 90-point pace, they had to receive a .928 save percentage from their netminders — 15 points north of that mark, which would put them firmly in the “Give these guys the Vezina” category — which should tell you how many shots they concede every, single, night.

Since the start of January, Leafs goaltending has a save percentage of just .907 in 39 games, which still isn't enough to bring them south of the league average for the season. They've had just 12 regulation wins in that stretch (with another six in overtime or the shootout, plus three loser points). And that's not a coincidence.

Torontonians — at least the local water-carriers and Leafs executives — are going to run Reimer out of town this summer for his hard left turn at the start of 2014, and rightly celebrate all of Bernier's contributions to make them in any way competitive.

To give you an idea of the difference in quality between the Leafs' and Jets' goaltenders this season, there's a simple thought experiment. If Kevin Cheveldayoff and Dave Nonis had traded Pavelec and Al Montoya (who's been great as a backup) for Reimer and Bernier straight-up at the start of this season, and they posted exactly the same numbers, the Leafs would have allowed 30 more goals this season. The Jets would have allowed 27 fewer. Mathematically, that means the Leafs would have 10 fewer points in the standings, and the Jets nine more. And that puts neither anywhere near the playoff bubble.

There are a lot of what-ifs every NHL season, but this one's pretty clear: If either got league-average goaltending, their fortunes would be very different indeed.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks went on a bit of a signing spree this weekend, locking up Wisconsin sophomore forward Nic Kerdiles (previously drafted) and St. Cloud State junior goaltender Ryan Faragher (free agent) to two-way deals as a means of shoring up their prospect pools. Kerdiles is the real deal, Faragher significantly less so.

Boston Bruins: The B's win over the Flyers on Saturday guaranteed they'd be the top seed in the East. Now maybe they give Zdeno Chara a night off or two. Haha just kidding no they won't. They're going to complain about how slow a 6-foot-9, 37-year-old man playing 32 minutes a night for two months looks.

Buffalo Sabres: Will Luke Adam ever become an everyday NHL player? He'll be 24 next season and could only get into 11 games for lowly Buffalo this season (registering but a single goal), so it's basically now or never.

Calgary Flames: Who will the Flames draft this June? Hint: He's probably at least like 6-foot-3. Doesn't matter if he's any good.

Carolina Hurricanes: “Playoff hopes.” “Fade.” Come on man. The Hurricanes have been pretty clearly out of it since like December.

Chicago Blackhawks: You probably don't want to let Patrick Sharp shoot from that distance on a 2-on-1. Probably ends like this more times than not.

Colorado Avalanche: So much anger in this Avs/Blues game from Saturday. Almost like the Blues were mad they were getting killed.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Turns out being not-terrible (which is about all I'm comfortable saying the Blue Jackets are these days) is good for business. Season tickets are up 20 percent this season.

Dallas Stars: If I'm in the West, I'm worried about what the Stars can do to me in a seven-game series. They look like they can do some damage to a lot of contenders these days.

Detroit Red Wings: We all want a lot of things. Can't always have 'em, can we Pavel?

Edmonton Oilers: I loooooove Dallas Eakins waxing philosophic about the role toughness plays on successful teams. This link also features a lot of terribly interesting numbers about what makes defensemen successful. If you click only one link in WWL this week, click this one.

Florida Panthers: Terrible news for Panthers fans -- Ed Jovanovski has no plans to retire this summer.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings really don't care at all that they lost to Vancouver on Saturday. No one got hurt. That's Job No. 1 these days.

Minnesota Wild: Erik Haula is making the most of his time on the Wild's second line with Mikael Granlund injured. He has goals in each of his last two games, and points in three straight. Playing between Matt Moulson and Jason Pominville helps.

Montreal Canadiens: What a way to right the ship, after giving up three third-period goals to the Wings. Goals from Brian Gionta, and this one from Alex Galchenyuk, really set things straight. Jonas Gustavsson can't be happy with his defense on either.

Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: The Predators shut out the Sharks? In San Jose? What a world we live in.

New Jersey Devils: Don't everyone look all at once, but the Devils have points in eight of the last nine games and a soft schedule remaining (hosting Calgary, at Ottawa, hosting the Islanders, hosting Boston) and are just one point back of Columbus for the final playoff spot. They might just pull this off.

New York Islanders: For real though, who are these guys? Nothing is going right for the Islanders.

New York Rangers: Crazy that the Rangers still don't have their playoff spot definitively locked up. They're second in the division and fifth in the East and they don't have things locked up, because they only have 91 points. What an awful conference.

Ottawa Senators: Man, what is it with this “playoffs are a long shot” stuff. Do you know how much help the Senators need to make the playoffs? It's a crazy amount of help. Can we just stop with this stuff?

Philadelphia Flyers: When a game against the Sabres in early April is a “must-win,” you know things aren't going well at all.

Phoenix Coyotes: Thomas Greiss would like to start full-time, but he's never going to do it in Phoenix, because of that awful Mike Smith contract. That .923 this season, though, should get him a look elsewhere (like say, I don't know, Winnipeg?).

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Pittsburgh Penguins' Jussi Jokinen (36) collides with Phoenix Coyotes' Chris Summers (20) in the first period of …

Pittsburgh Penguins: Jussi Jokinen is one of the few possession drivers the Penguins have in their bottom six, so having him out injured for this final few games of the regular season is probably for the best. Get him healthy for the playoffs, and that's all you need to be concerned with, really.

San Jose Sharks: Wait a second, the Sharks got swept by the Predators this season? That seems like one of those things that is literally impossible to believe.

St. Louis Blues: Ken Hitchcock, moments before storming off in a huff, upon being asked why the Blues have been trounced on their last two trips to Chicago: “What's the series at?” The Blues have won exactly one game in regulation or overtime against the Blackhawks in five tries this year. So to answer your question, Hitch, the series is at, “Not good for you guys.”

Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts sure are losing a lot lately. Could it be because Ben Bishop has allowed 48 goals on 497 shots he's faced (.903)? Nahhhh.

Toronto Maple Leafs: “[I]f it takes overpaying to keep Bolland, they have to do it. His value cannot be statistically quantified. But his value should be unquestioned.” Why does this kind of talk from Steve Simmons sound so familiar? Ah yes, because here's Mike Zeisberger nine months earlier: “Thus, in the end, with little recourse, Nonis bought out Grabovski, freeing up cash for other players, whether that be Stephen Weiss, David Clarkson, Tyler Bozak, Paul Stastny, whoever. And, yes, they likely will be 'overpaid,' the same term many used in reference to Grabovski. The difference here: The incoming players will be a Dave Nonis/Randy Carlyle-type players.” The Toronto media like if you taught a school of goldfish how to write. No lessons learned ever.

Vancouver Canucks: Henrik Sedin is back just in time (to see his team miss the playoffs).

Washington Capitals: All the Caps needed to break out of their little slump here is a game against the Islanders and a shootout. No big deal. They're pushing for the playoffs.

Winnipeg Jets: Connor Hellebuyck, the best college goaltender in the country recently signed his entry-level deal with the Jets and that might help to shore things up in a few years, even if they don't buy out Pavelec.

Play of the Weekend

Though I am loath to put shootout goals in this space under normal circumstances, look at this magic from Sam Gagner. My my.

Gold Star Award

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Nashville Predators goalie Carter Hutton (30) stops a shot from the San Jose Sharks during the third period of …

Yeah you gotta give a lot of credit to Carter Hutton for making 35 saves in San Jose to earn his first career shutout. What a nice boy.

Minus of the Weekend

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Bruins Jacket

I will never for the life of me understand why people have an obsession with teams having some dumb thing their best player has to wear after wins. The Bruins' latest is a stupid jacket that says “Old Time Hockey” and boy is everyone just fawning all over it. Take that, and the Rangers' Broadway hat, and every firefighter or construction helmet and goofy t-shirt and ugly tie, and throw them in a toxic waste dump. They're all stupid. Who cares.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “Habsrule” might be a bit biased here.

To Oilers:

PK Subban

To Habs:

Darnell Nurse
Aaron Ekblad (2014 1st rounder pick)
2015 2nd round pick

Signoff

It was like being on a romantic stool.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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