With Saturday night’s win against the Vancouver Canucks, the Toronto Maple Leafs have climbed above .500 for the first time this season. It’s very early in the season, but the Leafs have actually climbed into a playoff spot with their recent play. The thing is, teams who are hanging around the playoffs around this time of year and throughout the month of November usually are still there by the end of the season. Now, things could change, but if the Leafs continue to play like they have been, the Leafs could actually challenge for a playoff spot.
However, there is a big problem that the Leafs should fix soon.
The Leafs record is as good as is it is now because of the fact that they are 4-1 at the Air Canada Centre. Compare that to their 1-3-3 record on the road and you can see where the Leafs need to improve. While you could say that it’s nice that they have earned at least a point in four out of seven games, you need to remember that the Leafs gave up leads to lose those last three. Without that problem, the Leafs could be 4-3 on the road and 8-4 overall.
In the first game of the season, the Leafs gave up multiple one-goal leads and eventually lost 5-4 in overtime. Two games later against Winnipeg, the Leafs had a 4-0 lead halfway through the game and ended up with the exact same result. Another two games later, the Leafs gave up a two-goal lead in the third period against Chicago. Guess what the score was. Once again, it was 5-4, although this time in a shootout. Again, those three games were entirely winnable and would make the Leafs road record more favourable.
The Leafs other three losses on the road came at the hands of the Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens and New York Islanders. The Leafs at least kept themselves close against the Wild and Habs, but they looked absolutely horrible against the Islanders in what was, and still is, their worst game of the season.
On the Road
A key for the Leafs is getting better on the road. It will be extremely important in the next two months. The Leafs have their annual Western Canada road trip at the end of the November. At the tail end of the year and heading into 2017, the Leafs have a 10-game stretch in which they play eight of them on the road. That stretch also includes the Centennial Classic against the Detroit Red Wings on January 1. Those eight games could be very important in determining where the Leafs are going to finish.
Being away from the Air Canada Centre has been a problem for the Leafs in recent past. Last season, they were 15-24-2. In the season prior to that, they were 8-27-6. Those eight road wins were the fewest by any team that year. If the Leafs are going to develop into a team that challenges for the playoffs and eventually the Stanley Cup, they’ll need to learn to win on the road more consistently.