The Toronto Maple Leafs don’t handle success well. In fact, they have messed it up for two seasons. Does success make the Maple Leafs too comfortable? Does lack of success motivate them? How can the pattern they’ve fallen into be explained? And, most important what happens next?
This season, the team started their first seven games by putting together a less than successful 2-4-1 record. Then the team proceeded to win five games in a row; and, they beat some good teams during that stretch. Then, in their last game against the Los Angeles Kings, they fell behind and couldn’t come back. Now what?
Maple Leafs’ fans will likely recall that, over the past two seasons, such play has been a pattern. About nine months ago, during the 2020-21 season, that repeating pattern started to unfold. If it carries over into this season, the team is likely to go on an extended losing streak – starting about now.
Last Season’s Recurring Pattern of Winning and Losing Streaks
On February 17, 2021, and ending on March 3, 2021, the Maple Leafs put together an impressive 7-1 record. Even more impressive is that, during that streak, the team headed into Edmonton to play the Oilers for a three-game mini-series. At that time in the North Division, the Maple Leafs were leading the Division but the Oilers were nipping at their heels. The team proceeded to crush the Oilers by scores of 4-0, 3-0, and 6-1.
Those three victories were so dominating might many hockey pundits and Maple Leafs’ fans believed it should have been the regular-season turning point. The team would never look back. But it wasn’t to be.
After those three convincing wins, the Maple Leafs then lost six of seven games between March 4 and March 19, 2021. The only game they won was in overtime, so even then they gave up points to opponents.
Then, almost as surprisingly, starting on March 20, 2021, the Maple Leafs won the second game of a back-to-back. That win started another streak. And what a winning streak it was. The team played 10 straight games where they got a point in all 10 games. Their record in those games was 9-0-1. That streak ended on April 10, 2021.
Then, and you’ve probably remembered or caught onto my point, starting on April 12 and going until April 20, 2021, the team lost five straight (with two losses in overtime).
Why Is the Team So Up-and-Down?
It seems obvious that last season’s pattern of playing such streaky hockey needs to stop. If it doesn’t the team isn’t likely to make the playoffs.
Part of NHL hockey is that good teams lose. Hockey is such a bouncy game, and games can be won on a single bad bounce off the boards or an errant puck over them. It’s also a game where a goalie can stone a good team.
The truth is that the best NHL teams don’t always win the games they’re supposed to win. However, those truths don’t explain the pattern the Maple Leafs have fallen into.
Why are the Maple Leafs so streaky? Why do they play well and then almost immediately fall into a slump? It’s a crazy pattern and one the team should be learning to get over. Let’s hope they are.
Possible Reasons for the Maple Leafs’ Streaky Pattern
Were Goalie Injuries Last Season’s Culprit?
Maple Leafs’ fans have to wonder what’s up. Last season, were the streaks tied to injuries to the team’s goalies? The team won the North Division despite a season filled with injuries to its goalies. Both Frederik Andersen and current starter Jack Campbell were out with nagging injuries over the course of the season.
If that’s the case, could the team be headed that way again? Petr Mrazek is now facing four weeks on the shelf with his nagging groin injury. The team is riding Campbell hard. Can he hold up under such an extended workload?
Is the Team’s Core Too Young and/or Emotional?
Is another possibility that this team is still too young? Or are the players too emotional? Do they get emotionally up and get their adrenaline going for certain games and certain teams, but then come crashing down to earth following those highs? They handled the Boston Bruins easily, then muffed it up against the Kings.
Working to End the Pattern of Streaky Play
Over the past two seasons, the Maple Leafs have fallen into repeating patterns of highs and lows in their play. The result has been lengthy winning streaks followed by almost as lengthy losing streaks. If that pattern continues, it might be a tough season for the team. It sure is for the fans.
Related: 7 Cool Things About Carey Price
If this season’s pattern follows last season’s pattern, it means that the Maple Leafs might not win for a while. They play the Philadelphia Flyers tonight, then come back home to play the surprising Calgary Flames on Friday night. Then, they play in Buffalo against the Sabres for a Hockey Night in Canada game.
Is the team due for a fall? We’ll see starting tonight.
[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