Hockey Analytics: Leafs Quarterly Review

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Gus Katsaros
·7 min read
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Halfway through the third quarter of the NHL season, after 35 games the Toronto Maple Leafs lead the North Division by a single point, ahead of their opponent Wednesday night, the Winnipeg Jets.

Arizona Coyotes vs St. Louis Blues 3/31/21, 7:30 pm ET

Los Angeles Kings vs Vegas Golden Knights 3/31/21, 10:00 pm ET

The raging debate of Auston Matthews against Patrick Laine drafted one and two in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, are long over, both due to the former Jet getting traded earlier in the season and secondly, but most importantly, Matthews has established himself among the game’s elite. He sits seventh in points, while leading the NHL with 23 goals, highlighted by a season high 13 games point streak (13-16-8-24).

In 2020-21, as Matthews goes, so do the Leafs. When he’s scoring, he drives teams offense ranking with 8.4 goals above a replacement player (the GAR stat is found on the Evolving Hockey website). While the Leafs have many offensively minded players – and we’ll get to that shortly – they don’t carry the offensive burden the way Matthews does for the blue and white.

An isolated tally of his season’s longest streaks is shown below. The data is sourced from Natural Stat Trick, using the individual game logs for players, in this instance for all situations play.

All the charts and data associated with this post is in this workbook in DropBox, feel free to download and check it out yourselves.

During the 13-game point streak, Matthews has had a seven-game goal streak, while the longest period this season without a goal is five games, occurring twice in the last 14, ever since the steak ended, clearly ailing with a wrist issue. He’s scored five times during that span.

Breaking down his season into quarters (56 games are 14 per quarter) yields the results we are going to look at more in depth. The first chart below outlines 2020-21 point splits along with the IPP – Individual Point Percentage, or how many points he earned on goals scored while he was on the ice.

During the first quarter, Matthews earned points on 64% of on-ice goals scored, contributing 11 goals on his own. The second quarter caught the tail end of the point streak and while he topped his Q1 totals, his IPP dropped. During the struggling Q3, a sample size of seven games, his contribution has been slower than over the first half of the season.

Auaston Matthews Quarterly Points Breakdown
Auaston Matthews Quarterly Points Breakdown

We can go even further. It was clear that a career shooting percentage in the high teens, with his Q1 shooting percentage was not sustainable. As it dipped in the second quarter measuring his goals production over the first half, he’s outperformed his expected goals by a wide margin, while trailing so far in the Q3.

Auston Matthews Quarterly Expected Goals Breakdown
Auston Matthews Quarterly Expected Goals Breakdown

When taking every game into consideration, via the NST game logs, the table below illustrates Matthews season based on the amount across the top for the category.

Metrics of note would be shots on goal and individual scoring chances – fired at least two shots per game and generated two or more scoring chances. His iCF (individual shot attempts) is also notable, with 26 games with five or more events – an astounding figure.

Category

Zero

1

2

3

4

5+

15

11

6

0

0

0

18

11

3

0

0

0

8

13

8

1

2

0

0

0

6

8

6

12

0

0

0

3

3

26

0

0

4

4

6

18

4

8

9

7

2

2

As Matthews goes, so do the Leafs.

But what about his linemate, Mitch Marner? How has his season compared in the quarterly view?

Glad you asked.

Using the same metrics to produce the quarterly splits, Marner’s on a point per game pace for Q3 while getting a bounce in IPP from the second quarter – an indication of how much more effective he is with a healthy Matthews. But as a primary offensive weapon, the argument should be that Marner, considering his skills and contract should be dominating, regardless of the linemate. This has been an ongoing issue since his rookie season and just like how Edmonton loads up its first line with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the Leafs have paired Matthews and Marner together.

Mitch Marner Quarterly Points Breakdown
Mitch Marner Quarterly Points Breakdown

The former London Knight’s expected goals has been in decline since Q1 despite besting it in the first half, and slightly behind in Q3 – albeit with a much lower shooting percentage.

Over the last 15 games, he’s fired five or more shots on goal six times (that encompasses his season’s totals) and a small peak into the way he’s stepped up as Matthews wrist ailed. The reduction in shooting percentage is actually due to the elevated shooting rate, not necessarily because of goal scoring issues. During that span he’s also had 10 or more individual shot attempts in three games.

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SUPPORT SCORING

Leafs support scoring shouldn’t be left out here either.

The second line consisting of John Tavares, William Nylander – and as of late Alex Galchenyuk – has experienced their own setbacks, with Tavares struggling somewhat to score at even strength early on. His IPP has taken a hit in Q3 – as has his overall shooting percentage and he’s been chasing his expected goals ever since Q2.

John Tavares Quarterly Points Breakdown
John Tavares Quarterly Points Breakdown

Tavares has fired less than five shot attempts only a scant three times in the last 16 games (and seven straight with two or more high danger scoring chances) – and just like Marner he’s stepping up the offensive generation in the wake of Matthews wrist injury. We can argue of Tavares’ lack of elite level production – which is a different narrative altogether – but when the Leafs best player was ailing, the captain stepped up.

His linemate, William Nylander struggled on the tail end of Q1 and ended at the beginning of Q2, with two points in nine games, before igniting for five goals in four games and surpassing his 4.73 expected goals during the quarter. In the last 15 games, he’s had 10 games with five or more shot attempts and five of the six games with a five-shots or more effort. The lightning rod for fans and media, ‘Willy’ has been fantastic in the recent past. Consistency is a key issue here.

William Nylander Quarterly Points Breakdown
William Nylander Quarterly Points Breakdown

Pending unrestricted free agent Zach Hyman, showing his versatility and acumen for supporting the best players, has proven to be a spark that can be moved up and down the lineup as required. During the Matthews wrist injury, he was moved up the lineup to support the first line – even as a stand in for Joe Thornton, and has scored seven goals in the last 15 games, while recording 10 games with five or more individual shot attempts. He’s been consistent in quarterly scoring, but in Q3 he’s seen a substantial increase in IPP to half of the on-ice goals scored.

If he hits unrestricted free agency, Hyman is going to get paaaaaid!

Zach Hyman Quarterly Points Breakdown
Zach Hyman Quarterly Points Breakdown

As a fun exercise, I wanted to look at Jason Spezza, a fourth line player with an affordable contract and specific role he’s adopted as a member of the Leafs. He was even waived earlier in the season as a cap management maneuver, with the statement that if claimed, he would retire. So in other words, Leafs or bust. He’s had a positive effect overall as a Leaf. His quarterly breakdown is shown below.

His three Q3 goals are way over the 0.87 expected goals, but that’s what happens when you’re firing 19.05% during a heater with three goals on seven shots.

Jason Spezza Quarterly Points Breakdown
Jason Spezza Quarterly Points Breakdown

Spezza is a great use case for supplanting skill into the fourth line and using cheap replacement players instead of signing lower roster players to multi-year deals. There will always be a Spezza available and it’s up to teams to utilize their skills, expertise, and network to find value players.

Another half quarter to go, with a week leading up to the trade deadline and then another 14 games before he playoffs.

Buckle up!