The Toronto Maple Leafs have just been through one of the toughest, most gruelling stretch of hockey games in franchise history. They might have also played their best hockey ever (outside of the playoffs) in that same stretch.
This team dominated their opposition during this tough schedule. In this post, we’ll look at the level of that dominance. What might this mean for the long postseason haul? We believe it’s one more reason for some hope for this postseason.
Just How Tough Was the Schedule?
On March 26, the Maple Leafs lost a game 4-2 to the Canadiens in Montreal. That was the game where they outshot the Habs 51-18 but got stoned by Jake Allen. Exactly one month and one day later, on April 26, the Maple Leafs shut out the Detroit Red Wings 3-0, led by Auston Matthews’ 59th and 60th goals of the season.
The Red Wings game was the Maple Leafs’ 18th game in 32 days. We can’t remember ever seeing a Maple Leafs’ team having to play that many games in that short a period. To make matters worse, 10 of the 18 games were on the road. That added over 15,000 kilometers of travel on top of everything else.
Altogether the Maple Leafs had four back-to-backs and four segments where they played three games in four nights. All four of their back-to-back games involved travel between the games.
The Maple Leafs’ Met Their Heavy Workload Successfully
The average NHL game that does not go into overtime or shootout averages about two and half hours to play. If we break the whole period between March 26 and April 26 down to hours, it means the Maple Leafs saw less than 40 hours, on average, between the horn to end of their previous game and the puck drop for the start of their next game.
That schedule happened for just over a month. Each 40-hour period involved, on average, about 800 kilometers of travel as well.
If the Maple Leafs would have wilted and faltered under that workload, it would have been completely understandable. The wear and tear and physical toll from playing so many games in such a short period have to be tremendous. However, not only were they up to the challenge, they were dominant.
After losing the first game to the Canadiens, they went 13-2-2 in the remaining 17 games. Their record in the second games of the back-to-backs with travel was 3-0-1.
The Best Maple Leafs’ Players Were The Best Maple Leafs’ Players
The players who led the team throughout this stretch were the players who should lead the team. Their best players were their best players. All five of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, John Tavares, and Morgan Rielly were their top scorers. Furthermore, all of these players played at a point a game or better pace.
Here is each player’s stat line throughout the 18 games per Quanthockey.
The goaltending in the 18-game stretch, while not stellar, was strong enough.
Here are the goalie stats per Quanthockey
|Player||Games||Wins||Losses||Overtime/Shootout Losses||Save Percentage||Goals-Against-Average|
The Tough Stretch Did Take an Injury Toll
The tough stretch of games did take its toll on the Maple Leafs. When they started the stretch, they were already without Ondrej Kase and Rasmus Sandin. Jake Muzzin, who was out following his second concussion prior to the first game of this stretch, came back, suffered another injury, missed a few more games, then played last night.
Related: Today in Hockey History: April 27
Petr Mrazek suffered another of a string of groin injuries and could be done for the season. Michael Bunting went down with a lower-body injury but he should be ready for the playoffs.
The biggest injury was to their best player, Auston Matthews. Matthews missed three games with an undisclosed issue. Obviously, and luckily, it didn’t stop Matthews from being at his best, seeing that he came back well enough to become the third player in the last 20 years to score 60 goals in a season.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe did sit other players near the end of the gruelling segment. These players were either banged up or, in the minds of the coaching staff, needed some “load management.”
What’s Ahead for the Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs’ win over the Red Wings helped them secure second place in the Atlantic Division and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The only question that remains is who their first-round opponent will be? They might have a direct hand in that.
At this point, the Tampa Bay Lightning are third in the Atlantic Division. If the season were to end today the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions would be their opponent in the first round. They have a three-point cushion over the Boston Bruins; and, each team has two games remaining.
One of those games is between the Maple Leafs and the Bruins on Friday night. It’s possible that the game could have a bearing on who the Maple Leafs play in the first round.
The playoffs are scheduled to begin on Monday, May 2. The Maple Leafs’ first game could be Monday or Tuesday. Because their only remaining game in the regular season is the Bruins’ game on Friday night, the team would have four or five days to rest, recover, practice, and prepare for their initial postseason game.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf