It’s December. The Toronto Maple Leafs are 27 games into their 2017/18 season, it’s no longer “still early”, and I think we can all agree it has not been short of entertainment.
The team currently sits second in the Eastern Conference standings and third in the NHL overall with a 17-9-1 record, resulting in 35 points on the board.
Aside from the obvious stats, such as a league-high 98 goals scored and a superb +16 goal differential, what other hidden gems have their been so far this season?
1. Setting the pace
For this eye-opening opener, I must credit Jeff Veillette for putting into perspective just how red-hot this start to the season has been for the Leafs.
Leafs are starting to pull away from their point total from last season already. Only need to go 0.545 (20th place pace) the rest of the way to match last year's total. pic.twitter.com/7wFEgruFvj
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) December 1, 2017
At no point during the 2017/18 season have the Leafs been behind their points total after the same number of games in 2016/17. In fact, they’ve been as high as seven points ahead after nine games, and currently sit eight points ahead of their total after 27 games last season.
This is as good an indication as any that the team is getting better, more consistent and more effective. As Jeff goes on to state, the Leafs only need to go 0.545 (20th place pace) for the rest of the season to match last year’s total in points.
2. Lock, stock and barrel
Another remarkable statistic from the season so far is the Leafs’ absurd shooting percentage through the first 27 games. Toronto are shooting 11.6%, second only to the New York Islanders (11.8%) in the whole of the National Hockey League.
The are six teams in the league who are shooting under 8%, and 20 of them aren’t even shooting double digits in percentage terms. While we can perhaps expect this to even out slightly as the season progresses, it just goes to show the offensive might that this team has.
3. Sophomore slumps?
Without wanting to put a negative spin on things, we should definitely take a look at the performance of three of the Leafs’ young stars in comparison to least season.
Starting with Mitch Marner, he has 16 points in 27 games so far in 17/18, that’s at an average of 0.59 PPG and 15:28 average ice time. In 16/17, he managed 61 points in 77 games at 0.79PPG, but did admittedly have an ATOI of 16:49. He’s on course for 16 less points than last season.
Kopitar 15 542:01
Giroux 15 460:09
Marner 14 389:49
Crosby 13 514:45
Johansen 13 431:36
Nylander 12 426:16
Eichel 12 493:39
Seguin 11 465:31
Tavares 11 469:10
Panarin 10 465:26
— 🎄Festive Stick🎄 (@oak_leafs) November 27, 2017
Note: The above is an old tweet, but the point still applies.
William Nylander managed 61 points in 81 games at 0.75PPG last season, and after a three point night against Edmonton on Thursday he has bumped up his numbers to 20 points in 27 games at 0.74PPG, breaking out of his ‘slump’. He’s on course for 61 points again.
Auston Matthews? Well he’s managed 26 points in 23 games at 1.13PPG, putting him on course for an 88 point season (based on him playing 78 games when accounting for time missed through injury). Last season, Matthews amassed 69 points through 82 games at 0.84PPG. Auston is ageing like a fine wine.
Marner’s numbers may be down, but as Meatloaf said, two out of three ain’t bad.
Finally, Zach Hyman is really coming into his own. Having spent a decent portion of the season on the first line, he’s managed 14 points so far in 27 games this season at just over 0.51PPG. Last season, he got 28 points in 82 games at 0.34PPG.
4. Second period blues
The Leafs’ slow start to games has been discussed at depth in recent weeks, especially when looking back on recent performances. Toronto went into the second intermission against the Washington Capitals on November 25th 3-0 down, and that meant they had failed to score in the first two periods in three of their last six games.
— BritishLeafsFan™ (@BritishLeafsFan) November 26, 2017
This season so far, the Leafs have been outscored 28-21 by their opponents in the second period. While it is the only period that they have been outscored, it is interesting to note that if you take the third period away (40-27 in favour of the Leafs), the team has actually been outscored in regulation play so far in 2017/18 (54-53).
Babcock’s boys have been outshot 611-538 this season; pretty much all of that deficit is due to their performance in the first two periods. That must improve, because the better teams will have them buried by the second intermission, like the Caps showed.
5. Comeback kids
Lastly, there is also somewhat of a worrying trend when the team is trailing after the first and second periods. When leading after the first period, the Leafs are 8-2-0. When leading after two periods, they are 10-0-0.
That being said, when trailing after one period they are 1-6-0, and trailing after two it’s 1-8-1. When the opponent scores first, the Leafs are 3-5-1.
Essentially, the team could do with just a bit more backbone when behind in games, because as I mentioned earlier there are teams that will bury them when it comes to that crucial point in the season.
In light of all that, there is a lot to be positive about after 27 games. Long may it continue, because on their day the Leafs are arguably the most exciting team in the league.