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leafs beat

Pttsburgh Penguins' Chris Conner (23) lifts the puck over Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier for a first-period goal during an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013.The Associated Press

That's a strange headline, especially for a team that couldn't manage a single shot on goal in the third period and overtime in their last game.

But if you want to boil the Toronto Maple Leafs issues down to one singular, simple, statistical measure that they have to improve, it's in the number of chances against.

Here's why.

While the Leafs have generally had terrific goaltending this year, with a .938 save percentage in October and a .929 save percentage overall, we know from recent history that teams struggle to sustain high marks like that.

Look at the Ottawa Senators this season as an example. They're down to below league average in save percentage, and it has had a dramatic impact on their success.

Last year, however, the Sens led the league with a .933 team save percentage in 48 games, one of the highest marks in NHL history and the highest in the last eight seasons.

Over that span, they are one of only four teams to have had a save percentage of better than .925.

And only 20 teams, out of the 240, have been at .920 or better.

Save percentages have gone up slightly league-wide, so it's a little more common to be a .920 team than say five or six years ago, but this should be considered the kind of figure for the elite area of goaltending. If your two netminders can stop this high a percentage of pucks, they're doing very well and you'll win a lot of games.

The problem for the Leafs is that, right now, they're allowing an average of 36.1 shots against per game. We can debate whether or not they're allowing more high quality shots or not than most teams, but that is an extremely high number, one that puts a lot of pressure on their goalies, no matter where the chances come from.

No team has allowed that many over a full season in the last eight years, when the league average has been 29.8 per game.

With that many shots against, even if Leafs goalies James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier have strong seasons and post a combined .920 save percentage, that will mean the Leafs allow 2.89 goals against a game, which would put them in the bottom 10 in the league.

This for a team that is scoring only 2.48 even strength and power play goals a game this season.

Leafs fans have witnessed in a few recent games how fleeting save percentages can be. Toronto's goalies have allowed 16 goals in their last four games and have a save percentage of just .892, despite not playing all that poorly.

Even with that hiccup, their numbers on the season are terrific. But if the Leafs don't cut down the number of shots against, it will still be disastrous for their overall goals against.

Here's a basic illustration of what would have to happen over the next 57 games for Toronto to end up with various save percentage marks at the end of the year:

First 25 games

Next 57 games

End of season






























Reimer and Bernier, in other words, could finish this season by giving their team a really strong .920 save percentage despite allowing more than three goals a game over the next 57 games.

Even if they're even better than that and finish the year with a fantastic .925, that 2.77 goals against per game is much higher than what they've managed to date.

The problem here is that Toronto's goalies are overworked. Regression almost always happens when there's a really high save percentage involved, and it is exceptionally unlikely that these two can maintain their current .929 number all season.

If the shots against aren't cut down, what we're going to see over the next few months is Reimer and Bernier being blamed for more and more losses, despite the fact the Leafs ballooning goals against was predictable.

What's unknown is how far Toronto's save percentage will shift the rest of the way. Both Reimer and Bernier have a career save percentage of .917, so that's probably a fair starting point for estimating their talent level.

They're two good young goalies, but even they aren't going to be able to keep this up.

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