Remember 2003? It was a year of wonder. Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected Governor of California. 50 Cent’s ‘In Da Club’ topped the Billboard charts. Of course most notably, it was the year that the Toronto Maple Leafs last defeated the Chicago Blackhawks.
With both teams tied for second in their respective divisions, the Leafs and Hawks enter Saturday’s game in seemingly similar scenarios. But, as the beat to death adage goes, they don’t play the game on paper. While the Hawks are viewed as the ‘sleeping giants’ of the West, the Leafs are seen as the ‘statistical anomalies’ of the East.
Thus these two Original Six teams square off Saturday night in what could be a quite lopsided affair.
Something you may not know about the Toronto Maple Leafs’ fan base is that there’s currently a big divide on the basis of mathematics. More specifically, the debate is over advance analytics.
To go into the lightest possible detail, hockey analytics dictates that puck possession and shots on goal are directly correlated with the winning of hockey games. This is notable because the Maple Leafs are terrible -and got worse in the offseason- in both of these categories. According to the analytics guys, the Toronto is en route to a poor season and will almost certainly miss the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the traditionalist fans scoff at all the mathematical analysis and yell “SCOREBOARD” over and over. And maybe they have a point. Not only is Toronto 6-2-0 and tied for first in the Eastern Conference, but they’ve been doing it without a number of their starters (Clarkson, Kulemin, Fraser, and recently Van Riemsdyk).
Sure, the Leafs have been opportunistic goal scorers and have had great goaltending. The question is, how long until the bubble bursts?
Hawks look to play all 60 minutes
Following Chicago’s 3-2 shootout loss Thursday to St Louis, Hawks head coach Joel Quenneville called the team’s performance “awful”. The Blackhawks squandered two different one-goal leads and looked generally flat.
Perhaps ‘awful’ was a bit over the top, but Quenneville had a point when he said that team stopped playing after the first twelve minutes of the game. Hawks fans and bloggers have noticed this trend as well, and the numbers are becoming obvious. Chicago’s first and second period scoring differentials are both +4, but their third period differential is -5.
The most damning aspect of the Hawks’ endgame woes is that they haven’t even scored a goal in a third period since their first game. That’s six straight third periods and zero goals. And the argument that the Hawks were playing ‘shutdown defense’ can’t even be made, because all of those games decided by one goal.
Leafs ripe for slaughter but is Chicago the butcher?
On paper Toronto’s success is shocking. The team is 25th in faceoff percentage, 28th in shot differential, and has the most turnovers in the league with 133- which is almost double the next team!
I had a long metaphor written about dark clouds and thunderstorms but I think everyone gets what I’m driving at here. I mentioned before that Toronto’s 6-2-0 record doesn’t reflect the current state of the team, and I’m definitely not alone in that belief. Recently hockey pundit Doug MacLean advocated that the Leafs needed to take a good beating to reset itself.
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks have still managed to grab 10 of a possible 14 points, and they don’t even look to be trying yet. Google the term, ‘Stanley Cup Hangover’ and you’ll see Chicago’s picture right next to the LA Kings from last year. It took the Kings ten games to sort themselves out last year; will it be the same for Chicago this season?
The spread opened at Chicago -170, quickly jumped to -173, and might head higher (depending on JVR’s availability). I generally don’t advocate the puck line- especially considering Chicago hasn’t looked stellar this year- but I think Saturday might be the time to take a shot.