When we finished our FOX Sports West post-game hit two nights ago, I told him, “let’s do this again after Thursday’s game.”
“Gotta keep scoring goals,” he replied.
Really, all that’s been separating Toffoli from more frequent post-game interviews is that pesky, career-low 4.96 five-on-five shooting percentage. He hasn’t compensated for that dip with power play production; on the contrary, he’s been moved around on the man advantage between the point, the half-wall and as a trigger-man in the slot. The results have been a career-low 8.4 shots per 60 minutes of power play time, so when he beat Keith Kinkaid with a laser beam teed up by Anze Kopitar for the game-winner on Tuesday, he registered only his second power play point (!) of the season. He’s yet to register a power play assist.
“I try and make sure I’m getting shots from Grade-A scoring opportunities,” Toffoli said. With a team-best 9.33 scoring chances per 60 minutes, per Natural Stat Trick, he’s been doing that. Even his high-danger chance generation rate is the best on the team out of anybody who occupies a power play slot.
“If I’m getting on the inside and getting chances, then that’s when I know my game’s in a good place. When I’m getting to the net and getting those second, third chances, that’s when I know I’m doing really good things. And when I’m not, and I’m getting shots from the outside and cheating for offense, that’s definitely not the way to play, and that’s not the way I’ve been successful in the league.”
He’s been getting inside. He’s been getting to scoring areas. He’s on pace to take 234 shots. The pucks just aren’t going in. It’s part of the team-wide low-tide of offense that has depressed numbers across the entire roster. Because he hasn’t been able to compensate for it with power play production, it hits Toffoli particularly hard.
“I think I’ve just had some crazy luck,” he said. “The off-side in Edmonton, where it’s barely outside [the offensive zone]. The goalie interference thing, it’s just little things like that. They’re the rules, and I’m not denying it, but if that off-side isn’t off-side, it could maybe get my confidence going a little bit more. It’s those little things, and confidence definitely goes a long way in this league.”
Luck probably plays a role. His PDO is 988, sustained by a .928 five-on-five on-ice save percentage impacted by Los Angeles’ sturdy goaltending. But the team’s 5.96% shooting percentage with Toffoli on the ice ranks 394th out of the 428 players to have played a minimum 500 minutes of five-on-five time this season.
“As a player, even as a team, some games they just seem to go in, and some days you just can’t buy a goal, and it’s kind of been like that for him as a player,” Willie Desjardins said. “Early, he just couldn’t find anything to go. He had some great looks, he had some great shots, he got one called back that was a good shot, so things weren’t going for him. I think a lot of goal scorers are a little bit streaky where all of a sudden when they get going they go, and I think Ty’s that way a little bit. But, his play overall has always been good. It’s not like he’s a guy when he didn’t play well – he was still good on the walls, he still battled hard, and that’s a good sign of a good player.”
Toffoli’s name has been brandied in trade reports, but unless heaven and earth is moved for him, the Kings aren’t expected to trade him at the deadline, nor will they be easily persuaded to at a later point. The preference is to keep younger players, assets and prospects, not move them.
This is the first real time that Toffoli has had to deal with that, but speculation is something that comes with the territory of not winning many hockey games.
“It’s one of those things that I think I’ve done a pretty good job of not letting it bother me, but like anything else, it’s obviously in the back of your head, and you’re hearing these things and you’re seeing friends go,” he said. “So, it’s tough, but at the same time, it’s a business. When you’re not winning games, that’s how it is.”
While Toffoli is yet to replicate his 31 goals scored in 2015-16, that might be tough to do. The connection with Anze Kopitar and Milan Lucic that season was among the most productive L.A. lines in the last 20 years.
It’s difficult to find a reason for the blanket on his production this season other than to deem it dumb luck. The Kings are aware of his pristine shot and chance generation, and they’ve been satisfied with what he’s been generating this year. His possession numbers, relative to his teammates, are the best on the team. Any suggestions that there have been shortcomings in his battle element or traditionally sound perimeter play were discounted. What’s happening now is the beginning of some inevitable market correction.
“He usually finds ways to get chances. Like, there are lots of games where his line was getting seven, eight chances, they just weren’t getting any goals,” Desjardins said. “They just finally started going for him.”
Toffoli has a low shooting percentage, excellent possession rates, excellent chance generation rates and will be entering a contract year next season. There is enough evidence here to suggest that he’s as due as any for a bounce-back year, and for a team in need of skill and finishing ability – his quick-strike homerun off Kopitar’s feed was a prime representation of the type of asset his shot is – there’s enough to suggest that he’s as due as any player on the team to rebound in production next year.
“Like I said when we were talking the other day, I feel my game’s been pretty good and I’ve been pretty consistent, it’s just the numbers thing,” he said. “I made the joke of scoring a couple goals, and everybody thinks my game’s way better, but from a personal standpoint, it’s just one of those things where it’s been a crazy season. Goalies are getting better and they’re making really good saves, and I’m doing my best, but like I said, for myself, I’ve always been a hot-and-cold kind of guy, which isn’t the best thing, but I’ve just got to keep going and keep shooting and keep getting my chances, and things are going to turn around.”
–Lead photo via Harry How/Getty ImagesThursday morning wasn’t the first time Tyler Toffoli answered questions about his goal scoring. He answered similar questions after netting the overtime game-winner at Madison Square Garden on Monday and then again one night later when he scored twice against the New Jersey Devils, bringing his total this season to a tepid but improving 11 in 53 games.