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Behind The Numbers

Maple Leafs' numbers have improved since Keefe replaced Babcock

Underlying statistics suggest coaching change has provided jolt to special teams, goaltending

by Rob Reese @NHLReese / NHL.com Fantasy Editor

NHL.com goes behind the numbers to examine the statistics of the Toronto Maple Leafs before and after coach Mike Babcock was fired and replaced by Sheldon Keefe on Nov. 20.

When Babcock was fired, the Maple Leafs were 9-10-4, their power-play percentage of 17.5 percent ranked 18th in the NHL, and their penalty-kill percentage of 73 percent was 27th. Despite struggling on special teams, the Maple Leafs had a 5-on-5 shot attempts differential of plus-150 (ranked second), indicating they were largely out-attempting their opponents and controlling puck possession at even strength. 

It's also worth noting that the Maple Leafs' 5-on-5 shooting plus save percentage (98.7 percent) was 23rd in the League, signifying Toronto could have broken through eventually at even strength if it stayed course, but its special teams needed a change.

Since Keefe became coach, the Maple Leafs are 8-4-0, have the best power-play percentage in the League at 31.5 percent and are seventh in penalty kill percentage at 85.1 percent. What changed? Most notably the production of defenseman Tyson Barrie, who had no goals on 59 shots on goal and was minus-11 through Nov. 20. He scored a goal in each of the first three games under Keefe, and has eight points (three goals, five assists) and is plus-3 in 12 games since the coaching change.

Video: TOR@DET: Barrie scores from the point through traffic

Another player who has improved considerably under Keefe is goalie Frederik Andersen, who is tied with Tristan Jarry of the Pittsburgh Penguins for first in wins (eight) since Keefe replaced Babcock. In that span, Andersen ranks third among goalies who have played at least 10 games with a .942 even-strength save percentage, up from .926 under Babcock. What explains the drastic improvement for Andersen? Under Babcock, the Maple Leafs were tied with the Detroit Red Wings for the third-most goals allowed 5-on-5 (52). Under Keefe, Toronto has improved considerably, allowing 23 goals 5-on-5, which is tied for 19th with the Washington Capitals, Arizona Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings.

Their penalty kill has also improved drastically under Keefe and one of the most important factors has been utilizing a healthy Zach Hyman, who missed 19 of the 23 games Babcock coaches because of a lower-body injury. Since Keefe took over, Hyman leads Maple Leafs forwards in shorthanded time on ice per game (1:56) and scored a shorthanded goal against the St. Louis Blues on Dec. 7. Right wing Mitchell Marner led Toronto forwards in shorthanded time on ice per game (2:53) under Babcock this season, mostly because Hyman was available four games. It's no coincidence that getting Hyman back has had a direct impact on their penalty kill improving. When examining the numbers further, Andersen's save percentage when facing the opposition's power play dropped from .847 under Babcock to .846 under Keefe, further suggesting that Hyman is among their most valuable penalty-killers.

Video: TOR@VAN: Hyman steals puck, scores empty-netter

The power play is the final area where the Maple Leafs have improved considerably under Keefe after he experimented with the top units' personnel. Under Babcock, defenseman Morgan Rielly was second among Toronto skaters in power-play time on ice per game (3:22), averaging more than a minute per game than Barrie (2:08). Keefe made the adjustment of putting Barrie on the top unit, and Barrie is averaging more PPTOI per game (1:49) than Rielly (1:19). The sample size for Keefe is much smaller than it was for Babcock, but Barrie seems to have provided a new look to the top unit. Players do go through hot and cold streaks, so Rielly could take shifts with the top unit under Keefe too, but the initial move to give Barrie a shot with the top personnel gave the Maple Leafs a much-needed boost.

One statistical category where the Maple Leafs have regressed under Keefe is 5-on-5 shot attempts differential, or puck possession. They were second-best under Babcock and are 11th since Keefe took over (plus-25). This is not cause for concern because when examined more closely the Maple Leafs have improved their possession metrics when they have a lead during a game. Under Babcock, the Maple Leafs were out-attempted by their opponents (minus-8) at 5-on-5 when leading games and are plus-38 in the same situation under Keefe. This statistic suggests that the Maple Leafs no longer sit back and try to protect the lead, but instead keep attacking in an attempt to increase it.

It's only been 12 games, but early signs of the coaching change are encouraging for the Maple Leafs and their now-healthy roster. Their numbers weren't bad under Babcock, and the Maple Leafs ultimately could have broken through on special teams, but the switch to Keefe gave them an immediate jolt. One storyline to watch for the remainder of the season is how Keefe continues to utilize defensemen Barrie, Jake Muzzin and Cody Ceci, who each can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, on special teams. Entering the winter roster freeze, the Maple Leafs are tied for third with the Montreal Canadiens in the Atlantic Division and should continue to climb the standings if they maintain their strong special teams play under Keefe.

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