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January 13, 2020


An Opinion and Analysis: [email protected]

There were 9 teams better than the Leafs in goals for and against differential when I wrote this: Boston, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Colorado, Carolina, Washington, St Louis, Dallas, and Florida.

One of the reasons the Leafs are struggling with executing the many aspects of defensive hockey and a proxy for this vital part of the game is too many Dzone turnovers. In some ways Dzone turnovers are an indicator of the skill of a player’s under pressure puck handling and passing skills when unable to move at full or even half speed, as well as reading the play, seeing the ice and communicating with teammates. The Leafs continue to have difficulty in their own end with too many Dzone turnovers after 100% puck possession 5 on 5.

Part of the answer to improve this involves the other players on the ice, them opening up passing lanes, getting open, saying yes or no to passes and what system and tactics the team uses depending on the extent of the opposition’s pressure and their forechecking system and pressure. Lately there has been a return to more stretch passing to improve Dzone exits and to try to reduce Dzone turnovers as good opposition teams apply huge 2 or 3 player forechecking pressure to stop the speedy Leafs from gaining speed on exits from their zone.

In the last 5 games against Winnipeg twice, Edmonton, the Islanders and Florida, the Leafs have had 86 Dzone turnovers or 17 on average per game. Prior to these games the Leafs were averaging around 13 or 14 per game. 10 or more is an issue in my opinion. Give the best teams the puck often enough in your zone and watch the goals against increase.

Of course teams get puck possession in many other ways in the Dzone other than turnovers: entries with puck possession, winning loose pucks, winning 50-50 puck battles, winning Dzone faceoffs, winning pucks on the forecheck. But Dzone turnovers after 100% puck possession is slightly different because we had puck possession in the most dangerous zone and gave it up.

Now, I guess the Leafs analytics guys drill down on the Dzone turnover numbers to determine where, when and why these occur and whether a Grade A or AA shot results or more importantly a goal. Then show video to help improve player performance. Nonetheless, I don’t think any coach will disagree that any time a team gives up puck possession in its own zone it’s not what they want. Where they give it up is obviously important, in a corner is not nearly as bad as in the Grade A scoring area. Nonetheless, when a player gets possession in his Dzone other players tend to leave their coverages so a turnover anywhere in the Dzone can become very dangerous.

So, of the 86 Dzone turnovers, Leafs defencemen gave up 45, the forwards gave up 33 and the goalies gave up 8. Surprising distribution with so many turnovers for forwards but since the team was built on speed and high risk offensive puck possession skills not defensive specialist skills, defensive mindset, core strength, reach and physicality when we don’t have the puck, it’s not really surprising.

And keep in mind these numbers of turnovers in the Dzone do not include lost 50-50 or other puck battles in the Dzone or failure to get to loose pucks first. The Leafs lose far too many puck battles in the Dzone as I see it and are second to loose pucks far too often. Given their speed why is that?  Pretty good on winning Dzone faceoffs though I think using my eyes not a statistical count.

And keep in mind when looking at these individual results who gets more ice time, so Matthew’s 8 Dzone turnovers, Marner’s 7, Reilly’s 7 cannot fairly be compared to Spezza’s 3.

Which players are coughing up the puck the most in the Dzone after 100% puck possession 5 on 5 in the past 5 games:

Defence                    No. Dzone Turnovers

Marincin                                11

Holl                                         8

Dermott                                7

Reilly                                     7

Ceci                                       6

Barrie                                    6

Total                                    45 Dzone Turnovers

Forwards                  No. Dzone Turnovers

Matthews                             8

Marner                                  7

Engvall                                   3

Spezza                                   3

Tavares                                  3

Kapanen                                3

Kerfoot                                  3

Hyman                                   2

Brooks                                    1

Nylander                               0

Total                                      33 Dzone Turnovers

Goalies                      No. Dzone Turnovers

 Andersen                            7

 Hutchinson                         1

Total                                     8 Dzone Turnovers

Keefe I’m sure is working hard with what he has to reduce Dzone and other turnovers and to improve overall defensive play (e.g. unsuccessful and high risk pinches at the opposition’s blueline, fly bys, poke checks, gap control in the neutral zone and Dzone and in the neutral zone, more blocked shots etc) but I do not think he has the players with the necessary skill sets and mind sets, core strength, reach and desire to accomplish this goal throughout the team.

Trades that target defensive improvements to the Leafs 3rd and 4th lines and 5th and 6th defencemen are a supplemental alternative.  Not everyone on the current roster has the physical and hockey IQ skills to play great defensive hockey. They may have the speed but that’s not all it takes.

Those number 1 and 2 units who score more than they give up get a longer leash, but those who don’t, like the 3rd five player unit has to play a cumulative Plus Minus even as a unit against the top teams in order for the Leafs to beat the top teams.