Maple Leafs Need a Strong March to Balance a Killer April Schedule

February was an up-and-down month for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs entered the month on a four-game winning streak and added to it with wins over the New Jersey Devils and the Carolina Hurricanes. The team then proceeded to lose five of its next seven games, before winning three in a row at the end of the month. 

The Maple Leafs’ February Was Filled with Both Good and Bad

February included one of the team’s best games of the season, a 4-1 revenge game over the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, it also included one of the team’s worst games of the season, a 5-2 drubbing at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens where the score actually flattered the Maple Leafs. Then there was the 10-7 win over the Detroit Red Wings that had both media and fans scouring over the NHL and Maple Leafs’ record books.  

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Despite the mini-slump in the middle of the month, the Maple Leafs made up a lot of ground in the Atlantic Division. They started the month in third place, ten points behind the first-place Florida Panthers and five back of the second-place Tampa Bay Lightning. However, given the number of games the team had in hand due to rescheduling postponed pandemic games, they were able to catch up in the divisional points race. 

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews helped lead the team to a solid February record, Toronto Maple Leafs
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Maple Leafs finished the month tied for second with Tampa Bay, and only one point behind the first-place Florida Panthers. Their 7-4-1, 15-point month was the second-best record in the Atlantic Division for February, right behind the Boston Bruins’ 7-3-1, 15-point month. Lucky for the Maple Leafs, Florida (3-4-0) struggled and Tampa (5-1-0) only played six games.  

Maple Leafs’ Team Leaders for the Month of February

Mitch Marner was the NHL’s top scorer for the month with nine goals, and 14 assists, for 23 points in 12 games played. Auston Matthews was second in NHL scoring for the month with nine goals and 10 assists (for 19 points).  

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Rounding out what was the best line in the NHL for the month of February was Michael Bunting, who finished February tenth in NHL scoring with seven goals and seven assists (for 14 points). When February ended, Bunting was in first place for goals by a rookie with 19 and tied for second in points by a rookie with Trevor Zegras at 41, two points behind Lucas Raymond.  

Michael Bunting Toronto Maple Leafs
Michael Bunting, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Despite being a healthy scratch for two of the 12 games the Maple Leafs played, Justin Holl was the highest-scoring defenseman on the team in February with one goal and seven assists (for eight points). Holl’s eight points were enough to tie him for tenth in scoring by an NHL defenseman for the month. Morgan Rielly scored six points to place second among Maple Leafs’ defensemen. Timothy Liljegren was third with five points.

Maple Leafs Had Lots of Goals, For and Against 

Scoring goals was not a problem for the Maple Leafs in February. They led the NHL by scoring 51 goals in their 12 games, an average of 4.25 goals per game. However, keeping the puck out of their net was a problem. The team gave up 41 goals, which was an average of 3.42 per game.

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Neither of the Maple Leafs’ goalies put up good numbers in February. Petr Mrazek was the better of the two, posting a 4-2-0 record, a save percentage of .887, and a goals-against-average of 3.23. Jack Campbell’s numbers were 3-2-1 with a slightly better save percentage of .894, but a slightly worse goals-against-average of 3.42. 

March Is a Month that Could Be Kind to the Maple Leafs

On paper, the month of March is a month the team should be able to take advantage of. Of the 14 games the Maple Leafs play in March, nine of those games are at home and only five are on the road. Ten games are against teams that were out of a playoff spot at the end of February. All five road games are one-and-done games with no extended road trips.  

Already, however, the Maple Leafs started March poorly. They lost a 5-1 game they theoretically should have won and didn’t show well at home against a struggling Buffalo Sabres’ team. If they’re going to have a cushion heading into a difficult month of April, they simply need to play better.

Petr Mrazek, Toronto Maple Leafs
Petr Mrazek couldn’t shut the door against the Buffalo Sabres
(Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Maple Leafs need to take advantage of their March schedule. April is going to be grueling. They play 15 games in 28 days in April including a four-game road trip that starts against the Philadelphia Flyers, then goes south to Florida to play both the Panthers and the Lightning before heading to Dallas to play the Stars. 

That trip is also part of five games in an eight-night stretch. The Maple Leafs then make a second three-game trip to Florida with a stop to play the Washington Capitals along the way. 

The Maple Leafs Have a Tough April, But March Momentum Is a Key

Even with a difficult April looming, it would be unlikely for the Maple Leafs to miss the postseason at this stage of the season. However, if the team hopes to begin the postseason with any momentum, it needs to start in March and carry into April. 

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The Maple Leafs need a strong month of March to balance a killer of an April schedule. And, getting the goalies untracked and back on their games will be a keystone of the team’s success.

[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.]