Another Season, Another Year of Struggles for the Bottom Six

Image courtesy of Getty Images

Image courtesy of Getty Images

We’re now 18 games into the 2011-12 season. Though the Leafs have hit a bit of a rough patch in the last few weeks, there is much to be optimistic about with regards to playoff hopes. Kessel has emerged as a new player, Lupul is back to old form and though not scoring as much as last year, Grabovski and MacArthur have played well. The oft injured Connolly has been excellent in limited action so far. However, there will be several nights this season where the top six forwards don’t produce. On those nights, a good complimentary package in the bottom six is required to pull out the win. In my review of the bottom six from last season, I stated that without increased scoring from them, the playoffs would be a far more difficult goal. Unfortunately, not much seems to have changed thus far in the 2011-12 season.

The top six for the Leafs have scored 81 points so far, 37 of which are goals. The defence has scored 42 points, 5 of which have been goals. Finally, the bottom six has scored a miniscule 17 points and 9 goals. So they’ve accounted for only 12.1% of Toronto’s points this season. For reference, the Blackhawks have 35 points and 18 goals from their bottom six so far this year, meaning they’ve contributed 22% of the Blackhawks’ points so far. This lack of production can likely account for a few of the losses so far this season and if it keeps up, many more in the future. So the question then becomes what in particular has lead to this lack of production.

PlayerGPCorsi RELOn-ice Sh%On-ice Sv%Ozone%Fin Ozone%
J. Rosehill522.80.00.81850.043.5
M. Brown1813.54.11.91734.254.2
D. Steckel186.85.43.89240.856.8
P. Dupuis162.90.00.95941.858.5
J. Crabb72.29.38.84847.260.4
M. Frattin150.74.05.92052.747.3
N. Kadri30.411.76.87547.642.3
C. Armstrong5-
M. Lombardi18-
C. Orr2-

*All stats are even strength

The answer to that question is not an obvious one. The relative Corsi (shots for/against while on ice contrasted with shots for/against while off ice) is positive for most players, though Orr’s is somewhat troubling. The save percentage for Toronto goalies when each player is on the ice show some signs of lazy backchecking and poor defensive zone play. The offensive zone start percentage is low for most of these players, which is to be expected for bottom six skaters. What isn’t expected is that all of them, excluding Kadri, Frattin and Rosehill, have an offensive zone finish percentage that is higher than their Ozone%. This is testament to the kind of fast skating, hard forechecking game that Ron Wilson’s staff has been preaching.

The problem stems from the shooting percentage of the team when each player is on the ice. Excluding Kadri and Orr due to only a few games played, only Lombardi and Crabb have team shooting percentages in the normal range. This extremely low shooting percentage not only speaks volumes about the ability of these players to actually shoot well, but also to their overall passing ability and offensive hockey sense. Kadri’s 3 games are a tiny sample size, but his 11.76% team shooting percentage when he’s on the ice confirms that his passing skill is something the Leafs could definitely use in the future. Also, if you’re wondering, Armstrong, Dupuis and Rosehill have in fact not been on the ice at even strength for a single goal for.

This was an extremely brief report on the offensive struggles that the bottom six continues to have. Some solid third liners that can score 15 goals a year are hugely important for any playoff bound team. Teams that go far in the playoffs get scoring from all parts of their roster and though the Leafs might still make the show this year, without this complimentary threat they’ll be treading water in the first round.