Sometimes it's better to simply let the numbers do the talking.
And I don't mean the standings.
Yes, it's alarming how many games the Toronto Maple Leafs have been losing lately, including Sunday's 6-4 implosion against the Panthers, their fourth loss in five games.
But more troubling is how closely Toronto's recent games, win or lose, resemble what happened last season, when they were heavily outclassed territorially on so many nights.
Forget analytics, here's a very basic look at the Leafs shot totals, for and against, over 10-game increments this season. It's not hard to spot the trend:
Leafs shots on goal (10-game rolling average)
Shots can sometimes be deceiving due to things like score effects, power plays and small sample sizes, which is why many in analytics are now looking at shot attempts to get a fuller picture of what's happening on the ice in terms of offensive opportunities.
These numbers are all-situation totals to keep things as basic as possible, but they tell a similar story about what's happening with the Leafs season:
Leafs shot attempts (10-game rolling average)
And here's one more which expresses the two above graphs as differentials:
Leafs differentials (10-game rolling average)
Basically, over the last dozen games, the Leafs are being outshot by eight to 10 shots a game, right about where they were much of last season when they had some of the highest shots against totals in NHL history and collapsed to end the year.
The last 11 games, Toronto has averaged 27.7 shots for and 37.9 against.
Last season, those numbers were 27.9 and 35.9, and they ultimately finished with only 75 points in regulation or overtime, the sixth worst total in the league. (I've removed shootout win points as they're a non-factor when it comes to postseason success, the ultimate goal.)
The reasons why this is happening are well documented at this point. This is a poor defensive team. But for those that missed some of the context, here are two stories from last season that highlight (a) how coach Randy Carlyle's system has produced poor possession results going back to at least 2009 and (b) why the Leafs are such a streaky team.
While the debate around how good the Leafs are continues in the fan base and the media, to anyone who looks at this kind of data regularly, the red flags are everywhere of late.
And last season was a glaring exclamation point for all those arguing that trying to win this way won't work long term in the NHL.
The bottom line is the Leafs kept the same coach, the same core forwards (five of the top six if you include Joffrey Lupul) and defencemen (four of the top six), and decided that what they needed was more character (Stephane Robidas), grit (Roman Polak and Leo Komarov) and depth up front (Mike Santorelli and Dan Winnik) to correct their issues.
Perhaps it shouldn't be that surprising they look very similar a lot of nights.
In the sense they're not running out ECHL-calibre players on the fourth line and playing Jay McClement 18 minutes a night, the Leafs are a better team and should be able to finish with more than last season's 84 points. But they're still a group that remains fundamentally flawed, regardless of how impressive their goal-fuelled hot streaks are and regardless even of if they can sneak into a low-seeded playoff spot.
Especially if you keep in mind that these three charts are all solid, simple indicators that their record right now is better than it's about to be.