We’re just about halfway through the 2014-2015 NHL regular season, and there sure have been some surprises and disappointments. But the Toronto Maple Leafs are proving to be exactly what we thought they were. Not quite good enough to consistently win, but not quite bad enough to bottom out. Lets face it, the Maple Leafs are a middle of the pack team that is going to have to fight for a playoff berth.
After 40 games this season, we’ve seen the Toronto Maple Leafs score some dominating and impressive victories, but we’ve also watched this group skate to some embarrassing losses. The inconsistency of this group was evident as ever over the past 20 games. Leafs Nation was on cloud nine during a streak of 9-1-1 which included wins over Washington, Anaheim and the LA Kings. But that solid 11 game stretch was followed up by a nine game stint of mostly dud performances. With only two wins over the past nine games, and uninspiring performances against Carolina, Philadelphia, and Winnipeg, the Toronto Maple Leafs have reared their ugly side once again.
Still, let’s try have a little perspective. The Toronto Maple Leafs rank ahead of 13 other NHL teams, many of which are far worse off than the Leafs. This current Toronto Maple Leafs, despite often being outshot and out chanced, have a +8 goal differential. At the 40 game mark of last season, the Maple Leafs goal differential was -2, and eventually finished the 2013-14 season at -25. The current Toronto Maple Leafs are far from a Stanley Cup contender right now, but they’re also far from the bottom feeders of the league.
Take It By Ten Toronto – 40 games played, 45 points secured, 42 to go
There are unquestionably teams that are worse than the Toronto Maple Leafs, but are there any teams more frustrating than the Leafs in the NHL right now? After the drama of “salute-gate” died down, the Maple Leafs finished the month of November with five out of a possible six points. Wins against Detroit and Washington would serve as momentum builders. A loss to New Jersey in early December could have derailed the tenuous group, but almost uncharacteristically the Maple Leafs picked it up and reeled off a streak of six consecutive wins. Once again, the Leafs were the talk of the town. People were flying their TML flags high and with pride. Nothing was going to bring the faithful down…well other than the voice in the back of our heads asking, “sure they’re winning, but is it sustainable when they keep getting outworked and out chanced?”.
There were two specific games that, although they ended with Maple Leafs wins, I thought they illuminated the flaws and shortcomings in Toronto’s play. Back on December 10th, the Maple Leafs took on the Detroit Red Wings in the start of a home-and-home series. Toronto was just coming off a 4-1 win over Calgary the night prior, and the Leafs had a record of 2-1-1 on the second night of back-to-back games at that point. Well Detroit came out strong, and dominated most of the night. Through the 60 minutes of regulation, the Red Wings had outshot the Leafs 40-16. Same old script, merely another night where a Maple Leafs goaltender has to stand on his head simply to give the team a chance.
James Reimer should have been first, second, and third star in that game for the Leafs. Without his superb play that night, the Maple Leafs would have been blown out.
The other game that I alluded to was the Maple Leafs 6-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks were on a seven game winning streak coming into that match up against Toronto, while the Leafs had won five straight themselves. Sure the Ducks got smoked on the scoreboard, but over the course of 60 minutes, Anaheim played a much better game than the Maple Leafs. Toronto was out-hustled and outshot by a significant margin after 40 minutes. Yes the Leafs had a 2-1 lead after the second, but they were lucky to be in that position after being outshot 31-16 through two periods. Once again, the Leafs were relying way too much on their goaltender to bail them out.
The problem with winning while getting outworked and outplayed is that, at some point, sooner or later, it will catch up with you.
It doesn’t matter how much skill a team has, if the effort isn’t there, the result won’t be either.
Things were about to get ugly for Leafs Nation, as embarrassing and lackluster losses to Carolina and Philadelphia put a screeching halt to pro-Leafs party bus. A third straight loss to Chicago and it felt like the wheels were starting to come off the bus all together. The Maple Leafs patched things up for a 4-0 win in Dallas, but things were far from remedied for the Leafs. An ugly and humiliating performance was unfolding in the sunshine state.
Outshot. Out chanced. Outworked. Outplayed. When the Toronto Maple Leafs don’t put a sustained effort forward for a full 60 minutes, they’re just not good enough to win. The Leafs do have skill, maybe even an abundance of it, but what they continue to lack is an inherent competitiveness.
There are some nights where this team plays with a total lack of passion or effort. The most recent 5-1 loss in Winnipeg showed that exact absence of heart and drive.
When taking a closer look at the opposition the Maple Leafs faced over this nine game slump with a record of just 2-7, it should be particularly concerning to Leafs fans who the Maple Leafs lost to. Five of the seven losses came against teams equal to or below the Toronto Maple Leafs in the standings. Only Chicago and Tampa Bay had more wins than Toronto at the time of the games. In other words, there were a number of winnable games at hand for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but they lost said games because the Leafs didn’t put in an honest effort.
Again, let’s try having a little perspective. The Maple Leafs have two more wins and one more point than the league average, but they also rank 26th with 122 goals against. Far from a Stanley Cup contenders, but far from the bottom feeders. If the current day Maple Leafs were a piece of classic literature, no doubt about it, they’d be the dramatic thriller Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
40 games done, 45 points banked, 42 to play, on pace for 92 points.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
The Good: *past 20 games*
|Jonathan Bernier||14 GS||9 W||4 L||1 OTL||1 SO||.923 SV%||2.64 GAA||5 WinsWith 35+ saves|
|Nazem Kadri||18 GP||6 G||9 A||15 PTS||+6||8 PIM||42 SOG||1 GWG||30 Hits|
The Bad: *past 20 games*
|Jake Gardiner||19 GP||1 G||4 A||5 PTS||-2||6 PIM||26 BkS||20 Hits||-9 GvA/TkA|
The Ugly: *past 20 games*
|14Scoreless games||1Multi-goal game||7 G||11 A||18PTS||-7||51 SOG|
|Day-to-Day||Injured on Dec 31||Lower Body Injury||Out 7-10 days|
|Week-to-Week||Injured on Dec 31||Upper Body Injury||
|IR||Injured on Dec 31||Lower Body Injury||Out for 4 weeks|
Nicco Cardarelli writes about all things Toronto Maple Leafs for TheHockeyWriters.com. Nicco has PxP & Color commentary experience calling IIHF, Hockey Canada, OHL and CWHL games. Follow Nicco on Instagram and Twitter @BroBehindTheMic.