Over the last two days, I’ve posted on the current state of affairs with the Maple Leafs, providing on the one hand a hopeful look forward; on the other, a less flattering glimpse of what may lie ahead.
In truth, none of us knows how Burke’s bold (?) master plan will play out. During the moments when the team is jumping and moving the puck and finishing, it’s easy to think hopeful thoughts.
But when the team misses routine defensive assignments (as was in evidence this past Saturday night in Montreal) and gives the puck away as often as they too often do all over the ice, well, one wonders if it matters who they bring in—it’s just not “happening” for them on a consistent basis.
Yes, when you trail the Florida Panthers in the standings, in a weak Eastern Conference, it can feel discouraging.
So the question remains: why is it that every time this team looks like it is about to turn a corner (and I’m not even talking about the long-term future of the team, just this season), they fall back?
We all recall that the Leafs started the season impressively (and surprisingly, for sure) with four consecutive wins. No one expected that to continue. But the thought was, that would be a springboard and at the very least they would have a cushion for the tougher times ahead.
But after that auspicious beginning, they settled into a losing pattern, managing a single win in the next dozen games, I believe it was.
The blue and white then won three out of four, but immediately slipped back to losing four in succession. Then two more wins, but two more losses.
A single win came before three more losses. More back and forth before the Leafs won, hey, four in a row for the second time this season, part of that during a difficult western road swing.
Would they, finally, build on some success, we all wondered?
However, that four game “streak” was again offset by three more losses, before a solitary win and three more losses still.
Finally there was the more recent four wins in five games stretch, sandwiched around a rather awful performance in
But then a loss to Jersey and the game in
, and you have a record of 23-27-6, or 52 points in 56 games. Montreal
In the day of the “three-point games”, that’s just not enough.
So why did I go through this rather tedious exercise about when they won and lost games this season?
Mostly, it’s to reinforce what I and probably many Leaf fans have been feeling, that this team has had several “jumping off” points this season, plenty of opportunities to build on some good performances. And each and every time they have somehow allowed the momentum to slip away.
The thing is, nowadays in the NHL, we all know there is plenty of parity. Many teams have similar rosters and not a ton of high-end talent. That talent is spread around the league. Fair enough.
So most teams are in the same boat, yes. (And many, like
Montreal and , have actually been hit much harder by injuries than have the Leafs.) New York
That being the case, every team is going to go on a “streak” and win a few games. Even mediocre teams do that. It’s what you do after those modest streaks that determine where you finish in the standings.
And this season, the Leafs have consistently undone the good they have achieved by prolonged stretches of poor results after those two, three or four-game win streaks.
That, as much as anything, is why they are where they are.
We can break down, as I have over the last two posts, the various aspects of their play, special teams, goaltending, individual player performance, but at the end of the day they simply need to do enough to win more often than not. And so far this season they haven’t accomplished that.
There are no excuses. (The Leafs seemed to be suggesting on Monday that Armstrong not being in the line-up is a major loss. OK. He’s a nice player, an agitator who can do some things. And yes, they have a better record when he is in the line-up. But surely we’re not dependant on a third-line player to keep this thing afloat? Isn’t this supposed to be the organization with no complaints and no excuses?) This is Burke’s third season in town (let’s not forget that he was here for a good part of the 2008-’09 season) and
’s third as well. They have overturned the roster from top to bottom. Wilson
It’s worth noting that some of the guys that were here before Burke’s time, like Kaberle and Grabovski, and a goalie he didn’t draft (Reimer) have been integral to the limited success the team has had so far this season.
So yes, they will keep overhauling the roster, maybe even trade guys they’ve already traded for? (We just traded Versteeg?! Didn’t we just get him? Did I misread his bio? Is he turning 35, not 25? So we give away a guy who has won a Cup, entering his prime, for a late first-round pick? But that's a subject for another day.) All this to continue with the five year re-build they refused to admit they needed in the first place.
Boston Tuesday, Wednesday. If the Leafs win those games, well, joy will return, at least temporarily, because it will have meant two wins on the road against tough Conference opponents. Buffalo
But if they don’t get at least three points out of four, my earlier stated thought—that they still can manage to slide into the playoffs—may be a fading hope, at best. They will have played 58 games and will have but 24 remaining to jump past a few teams and make up significant ground.
Can it be done? Well, the agenda hasn’t changed. They need to win—a lot more than they lose—down the stretch.
Fans don’t much care how they do it.
Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Blog