December for Maple Leafs: In Like a Lamb, Out Like a Lion

The Toronto Maple Leafs were 8-1-1 and had won six straight. They were among the hottest teams in the league and were quickly climbing their way to the summit that is the Eastern Conference. After defeating the number one team in the NHL, the Anaheim Ducks, a stop in Raleigh against the worst team, the Carolina Hurricanes seemed like an easy task. The Canes were a team that, despite the debacle happening in Edmonton, had found a way to plummet themselves even lower in the league standings.

However, the stars did not align on this December night and the Maple Leafs dropped a 4-1 contest to these Hurricanes and since then have not been the team that took to the ice in earlier in the month. This game back on the 18th marked the first of what has now become five losses in the team’s past six games. The Buds as of Tuesday held the first wild card spot in the east, though the New York Rangers are just a point behind with three games in hand, meanwhile the Bruins are just two points behind the Leafs and the Panthers are also just three points behind and have four games in hand.

Impressive Streaks Snapped

Zac Rinaldo
 The Flyers snapped the Leafs streak of 14 wins when scoring the game’s first goal. (Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

The Maple Leafs brought the month to an end snapping a couple of very concrete stats that, in light of the past few games, were signs of a team that were not going to collapse. Heading into Sunday’s afternoon game against the Panthers the Leafs were 14-0-0 when leading after two periods. After a back-and-forth first 40 minutes the Leafs found themselves ahead 4-2. However, in a fashion reminiscent of their 2014 selves, the team gave up four goals in the third, losing 6-4 breaking their perfect streak of failing to give up a lead in the third.

The number 14 must be unlucky as going back to their 7-4 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on December 20, the team was 14-0-0 when scoring the first goal of the game. On this Saturday night game, the team got out to an early 2-0 lead and even after the Flyers cut the lead to make it 2-1, regained the two goal cushion to make it 3-1, but this was the last lead the team saw on this night. This game started a new trend as the Maple Leafs have now lost their past two games, both of which saw the Leafs score the game’s opening goal and in both cases cough up two-goal leads.

The Answer is in the Chances

After starting off December going 7-2-0 the team heads into a New Year’s Eve game against the Bruins with an 8-8-0 record this month. But the Leafs have only themselves to blame for the slump they are in as their play has been lackluster to put it nicely. In three of their past six games the team has given up more than 40 shots while averaging 38.5 against per game. And they have not given themselves the opportunities to produce a lot of offence either, cracking the 30-shot mark just once during that same stretch and averaging just a mere 21.7 shots per game.

The goals both for and against not surprisingly have been reflected in the chance department. The team has put up just 14 goals against over the span while allowing 20 against. Averages of 2.33 goals per game for and 3.33 goals against and when the opposition averages a goal against more each game, good luck coming out with a ‘W’.

Who is to Blame?

Gardiner was made a healthy scratch against the Flyers bck on the 20th.(Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)
Gardiner was made a healthy scratch against the Flyers bck on the 20th.(Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

Though it is hard to place a lot of blame on one or two players for what has looked like a full-team collapse, there are a couple players worth having a look at. The first of those is James Reimer, though he isn’t designated as the team’s number one, with a back-to-back and Jonathan Bernier coming down with flu-like symptoms, Reimer has started in three of the previous six games.

In his three starts the netminder has put up a goals against average of 4.07 and a save percentage of 0.886%, but what seems to be a little more concerning is the fact that in those three games Reimer has given up a total of five goals on shots coming from the blueline. Granted some were deflected or tipped, when a team is keeping shots on goal from the outside it is hard not to be a little concerned

about the quality of goals being scored.

Of course the other punching-bag everyone has loved attacking lately is Jake Gardiner. However, despite the team’s blunders, Gardiner is just a minus-three over the span. In saying that, Gardiner has just one assist during that time, he has not had a game where he has had a plus-minus higher than even and to add insult to injury he was made a healthy scratch during the team’s 7-4 loss to the Flyers. Gardiner also remains dead-last in plus-minus on the team with a minus-12.

The team is obviously not firing on the same cylinders as they were a few weeks ago and coach Randy Carlyle has noticed it, saying he needs to start working with the team on their defensive-zone coverage. But with this team, they are never consistent and are not strangers to slumps and recoveries so things could change. The team will play six of their next nine games against Western Conference, where they are 8-3-1 this season. Though with the streaks that they have had snapped lately, this number could very well dip in the other direction as well.