The next five games the Toronto Maple Leafs will play may arguably be one of their toughest stretches of the year. Their record currently stands at 19-8-0, one point behind the Tampa Bay Lightning and one point ahead of the Buffalo Sabres in the battle in the Atlantic Division. Furthermore, none of the teams they play between now and Dec. 11 are currently below .500 in the standings. The Detroit Red Wings having the worst record at 11-11-3, and the Sabres have the best record at 17-7-3.
How will the Maple Leafs fare over the next five games? And, with William Nylander now signed, can he become the X-factor in the Maple Leaf’s lineup if he is deemed ready to suit up? It’s too early to suggest that these games are crucial to the Maple Leafs’ season. Regardless of their record at the end of this stretch, the Maple Leafs will remain in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference. What if they completely tank and lose five in a row? Dire consequences? That’s a bit premature.
However, the next five teams provide the Maple Leafs with a true test of the team’s grit, ability, and potential for the year. Should they come emerge with a 5-0 record, which seems tough – but always possible – they would go a long way towards cementing their status as the NHL’s top team and an odds-on favorite to win the Stanley Cup. At the least, they would garner fan’s notice and have people talking.
Predicting the Maple Leafs’ Next Five Games
Obviously, predictions are just that. They are guesses. Even if one researches the strengths and weaknesses of every team, matching player for player and considering the context of road vs. away, time to practice between games, and any other possibility one can plan for, there are always those things one cannot plan for – such as injuries. Furthermore, what makes the NHL so darn interesting is that, as the old saw goes, “on any given night …”
Here’s a look at the next five games and my “predictions” of what might occur.
Game One: Dec. 4 Away Against the Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres are good – better than they have been for as long as anyone can remember. Sabres’ fans are pumped, with justification. Just coming off an overtime loss, they are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. They are also playing at home in front of loyal and boisterous fans, who have been counting the days for this showdown.
Undoubtedly, the Sabres see the Maple Leafs as a measuring stick for their own success; and, if they can beat this year’s biggest rival – well, who knows? The Sabres will win. The goaltending will be good, and the game will be close; but, it is the Sabres’ year, too. It will be a good game to watch, especially if you are Sabres’ fans.
The Maple Leafs’ record after the Sabres’ game: 19-9-0
Game Two: Dec. 6 at Home Against the Detroit Red Wings
As noted, currently the Red Wings are 12-11-3 and have won two in a row. If I have predicted correctly, the Maple Leafs will be coming off a hard-fought road loss to the Sabres. Although the Red Wings have been good lately – their record is 6-3-1 in their last 10 games — the Maple Leafs are simply the better team. The Red Wings give up a lot of goals, and I would be surprised if the Maple Leafs didn’t score big and win easily.
The Maple Leafs’ record after the Red Wings’ game: 20-9-0
Game Three: Dec. 8 Away Against the Boston Bruins
The Bruins are a tough team to call. Although their record is good enough at 14-8-4, they have been so-so lately and can come up flat. In bad news for them, ageless giant of a D-man Zdeno Chara is on injured reserve for four weeks with an MCL injury and will miss this game. Still, here’s predicting the Bruins will have a good game against the Maple Leafs, but will lose. I could see a low-scoring game that goes into overtime. Then, who knows? Perhaps, Mitch Marner sets up Auston Matthews one for a Maple Leafs’ road victory. Maybe, the Bruins will pull this one out. I call an overtime win for the Maple Leafs.
The Maple Leafs’ record after the Bruins’game: 21-9-0
Game Four: Dec. 11 Away Against the Carolina Hurricanes
On Nov. 21, the Hurricanes (12-9-4) beat the Maple Leafs 5-2 at home in Carolina, when Curtis McElhinney put on a show in net. It won’t happen again. The Maple Leafs will be ready and will handle the surprising Hurricanes easily. I can see a high-scoring game with the Maple Leafs winning 7-2. It will be a fun one for Maple Leafs’ fans.
The Maple Leafs’ record after the Hurricanes’ game: 22-9-0
Game Five: Dec. 13 Away Against the Tampa Bay Lightning
This will be the first meeting of the year between the Lightning and the Maple Leafs and, again, it might be for bragging rights in the Atlantic Division. The Lightning most recently beat the Florida Panthers and stand 19-7-1. It doesn’t take a genius to call a high-scoring game with both teams scoring over 4 goals.
The Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov and the Maple Leafs’ Marner are currently tied for third in league scoring with 38 points. Then there is the Lightning’s Calgary-born, 22-year old Braydon Point (where did this guy come from?) with 19 goals. I am guessing the Lightning win this close, but high-scoring game. It will be a fun one for Maple Leafs’ fans, but ultimately will leave Maple Leafs’ fans muttering “wait until next time.”
The Maple Leafs’ record after the Lightning’s game: 22-10-0
A Better Record Coming out Than When They Went In
Whatever happens, it will be an interesting eleven days for Leafs’ fans. I predict the games will be exciting. If I am correct, some will high-scoring affairs. I predict the Blue and White will emerge from this difficult stretch of games with a 3-2 record. Oddly, the Maple Leafs have not lost an overtime game yet; and, more than a quarter through the season, that’s a bit unusual. It will be good if they can keep up their overtime success. It’s a tough stretch of games, but the Maple Leafs will emerge by winning more than they lose – a good sign for the future.
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