Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Toronto the Good; Penalty Kill the Bad

ron wilson leafs angry
Ron Wilson about to punch his penalty killers in the face.
For the 6th straight season, the Toronto Maple Leafs own one of the worst penalty kills in the league. The high-water mark for the team was in 2005-06, when they were only the 7th worst team in the NHL with a nice, round 80% mark. Flash-forward to the present day and they are only killing off 73.5% of all penalties taken, the absolute worst rate in the league.

This atrocity isn’t even uncommon. This is the third time since the lockout that they have owned the dubious distinction as league worst and they haven’t killed off more than 80% of their penalties in eight years.

The Leafs have employed a rotating collection of players over the past few seasons, except none seem capable of getting the job done in even a mediocre way. Sure, the goaltending has been atrocious, but that surely isn’t the only reason the Leafs are so patently bad.

On a team that is scoring in bunches, with the first legitimate playoff chance since the glorious time of middling success before the lockout, the penalty kill is a legitimate concern, waiting to derail springtime hockey in Toronto.

In a previous post I was going to make a blanket statement that no team with a bad penalty kill has a shot at making the playoffs. I was just going to throw it in without checking because it just sounded true and I like when I come up with those bold statements. But I thought better, lest the stats police call me an idiot on the internet. And that’s when a somewhat curious stat popped out.

Not every team with a bad penalty kill will live a playoff-less life. In fact, some actually go to do quite well for themselves.

Of the 60 teams who have placed in the bottom-10 in league penalty kill since the lockout, 16 miraculously still managed to make the playoffs. That’s over 25%. Each season between 2 and 4 teams in the bottom-10 will still qualify for a shot at Lord Stanley’s mug. Simply having a bad penalty kill doesn’t necessarily doom a team to failure. There is hope!

But now that I’ve given you some hope, I’m here to crush it, because the stats aren’t as promising as I led you to believe. Yes, I’m a douche.

Only four teams managed to make the playoffs with a penalty kill in the bottom-5 over the last six seasons and none of those teams made it out of the first round, winning a combined five games in their first round exits.

More importantly, only six teams in the bottom-10 in penalty kill made it out of the first round and only three made it past the second round: San Jose in 2011, Detroit in 2009, and Pittsburgh in 2008. Yes, both Pittsburgh and Detroit made the Stanley Cup Final with horrible penalty kills, although neither won those seasons. The years that Pittsburgh and Detroit won saw them each own a top-10 penalty kill.

Disregarding Detroit, San Jose, and Pittsburgh ‑ who each had very strong teams in those seasons ‑ it’s clear that teams cannot survive in the playoffs without a good penalty kill. Once the playoffs start, games become so close and checking so tight that the outcome is usually decided on the powerplay. Good teams will feast upon a bad penalty kill.

This season, six teams with a bottom-10 penalty kill currently sit in a playoff spot: Detroit, Nashville, Ottawa, Chicago, San Jose, and Toronto. History suggests at least two of those teams should drop out, probably more.

To ensure a playoff spot, the Leafs must be better on the penalty kill (ed note to himself: did you really need this many words to say that?) Since the lockout, no team with one of the two worst penalty kills has made the playoffs. In fact, most of the time those teams are awful.

Even if the Leafs improve their penalty killing marginally, say from 30th to 25th, their chances of making the playoffs jumps by almost 20 percentage points.

The Leafs have improved in most aspects this season, but their play with a man down continues to drag behind. Something needs to change quickly, or else the playoff drought in Toronto isn’t likely to change anytime soon.

The following are all the teams since the lockout that have made the playoffs with a bottom-10 penalty kill:

San Jose 24th in 2010-11, made Conference Final
Chicago 25th in 2010-11, made first round
Phoenix 26th in 2010-11, made first round
Colorado 21st in 2009-10, made first round
Washington 25th in 2009-10, made first round
Nashville 28th in 2009-10, made first round
Anaheim 23rd in 2008-09, made second round
Detroit 25th in 2008-09, made Stanley Cup Final
Boston 28th in 2007-08, made first round
Ottawa 22nd in 2007-08, made first round
Washington 25th in 2007-08, made second round
Pittsburgh 23rd in 2007-08, made Stanley Cup Final
Calgary 22nd in 2006-07, made first round
Atlanta 26th in 2006-07, made first round
Montreal 21st in 2005-06, made first round
San Jose 23rd in 2005-06, made second round


Anonymous said...

My gosh the Leafs need to fix their PK if they want to get anywhere, and the best penalty killer is your Reimer....GET A CONDITIONING STINT DOWN IN THE MARLIES, AND RON, GET A NEW STRATEGY or else Toronto will be rioting this year if there is no playoffs for the Leafs. Every fan is at their wits ends and this year is the final straw for us. If we don't make playoffs, Wilson along with his ridiculous antics are going to get fired. Hell, Eakins would be a better fit for this team right now if anything. This is getting ridiculous year after year and everyone is sick of seeing and hearing about it. GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER LEAFS. After this year, if things don't change, I hope every Leaf fan stops going to games until things improve.

Matt Horner said...

Just when you think the PK can't get any worse, it somehow does. I share your anger.

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