It didn’t take long for the word “panic” to come up around Toronto Maple Leafs headquarters Friday.
Only, in every instance, it was following the phrase “it’s not time to” – which is what one would expect after a losing streak as modest as two games.
But with the possibility of clinching an NHL playoff spot now onto its fifth day and third game, the Leafs also know they need to be a lot better Saturday against the Ottawa Senators to dissipate some of the tension building around the city.
“To start the season, if you said after 44 games we’d be in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, you’re going to take that,” defenceman Ryan O’Byrne said. “There’s no panic. Obviously, we’ve had a couple games that we haven’t played the way we wanted to play, but we’re going to get back to work.
“There’s four games left in the season here, and we can get back to playing Toronto Maple Leaf hockey.”
Of late, Maple Leaf hockey hasn’t been all that pretty, something that brought on detailed video sessions with players and staff prior to Friday’s practice.
This is a team that’s been outshot in nine consecutive games, including embarrassingly so in two recent home games: 32-13 against the New Jersey Devils last Monday, and 34-10 in the first two periods against the New York Islanders last Thursday.
On the season, the Leafs have now allowed 5.3 more shots against per game than they’ve generated, which is tied for the sixth worst mark in the last eight seasons going back to 2005-06.
No team with a shot differential worse than minus-4.2 has made the playoffs in that span.
What’s more concerning than the Leafs’ shot deficit, however, is their scoring chance numbers, which head coach Randy Carlyle acknowledged haven’t been very good of late.
Like many NHL teams, the Leafs staff keep track of their own figures in that department – for the entire team and individuals – and provide them to players as part of their day-to-day evaluations.
“We look at them after every game,” winger Clarke MacArthur said. “We’ll just go over the sheet and see what we created and stuff like that. You can see exactly what you’ve done.”
“That’s become pretty common around the league,” O’Byrne added. “Most teams are calculating hits and turnovers and their own statistics to keep it consistent.”
While the Leafs don’t make their scoring chance totals publicly available, several independent statisticians have been tracking them online for various teams in recent years.
Cam Charron, who has been posting his counts at theleafsnation.com all season, has Toronto at about even (567 to 565) – in part due to a strong penalty kill – but the numbers have taken a sharp turn for the worse over the second half.
Based on his numbers, the Leafs have been outchanced 287-257 in their last 22 games, including 231-207 just at even strength, where the team’s issues have been the most pronounced.
No two scoring chance counters are alike, however, and Carlyle noted Friday he has been reasonably happy with his team’s scoring chance numbers overall, as they have been far better than their shot totals.
“We’re very close,” the coach said. “Depending on [the number of] power plays.”
Friday’s video sessions, meanwhile, focused on how the Leafs need to limit their turnovers and get more time in the offensive zone, something that has been their Achilles heel even while racking up wins.
While missing the playoffs remains quite unlikely given four teams would need to pass them, Toronto will be bumped to sixth in the East if they lose in regulation to Ottawa on Saturday.
On the flip side, a regulation win combined with a loss by the Winnipeg Jets would be enough to finally guarantee the Leafs a spot – ending one of the NHL’s longest playoff droughts at seven seasons.
“We’re trying to deliver the message that this isn’t a panic situation,” Carlyle said. “This is a situation that is easily correctable if we do some things that we’ve done before. We’re not asking them to step out and do something they haven’t done for this club before.”