The month’s half over, and after Monday’s game, the season is a third over. The Leafs are sitting three games over .500, holding 6th place in the East, and are currently on pace for 58 points (rounded up from 57.6) in a season where many prognosticators have considered 54 the magic number for making the post season.
So far, the Leafs are sitting pretty despite now being without Reimer, Gunnarsson, Frattin and Lupul. The Leafs have benefited from a friendly schedule. The average 2011-12 point total of their opposition has be 91, which averages out to facing a bubble team every night. This also doesn’t account for the dramatic drop off in teams like Washington, Philadelphia, and now Ottawa. Compare that to the average of 95 points in March and the average of 94 in April and it makes sense that the Leafs are coming out of the gates strong.
Obviously, it goes without saying that the Leafs should try and keep this up, but arguably the next two weeks are their last best chance to put themselves in a situation where they are playing to keep their playoff spot, rather than trying to play their way in against tougher opponents.
Monday’s game against Florida is a good start. Granted, the Leafs were swept in the four games against the Panthers last season, and with 94 points last season they’d be considered an average team. But after somewhat of a miracle season last year, the Panthers have regressed and weak goaltending and injuries to Versteeg and Jovanovski benefit the Leafs.
The Lightning are a team the Leafs did have success against last season, sweeping the season series. Without too many changes to their lineup, this could potentially be another game that Leafs should look at with optimism. Potentially, the challenge will be if Scrivens can handle the Stamkos/St. Louis driven offense.
Hosting the Sabres could be one of the bigger challenges as historically games against Buffalo have been a disappointment, but next Saturday’s game against Ottawa will hopefully go as smoothly as this past one.
The final week of February sees the Leafs facing the Flyers, Habs, and Islanders. The last games against the Flyers, as well as Philadelphia’s performance this season, have made this seem like a plausible win instead of a pending disaster like last season. The Habs game will be interesting to say the least after the last match-up, but with two wins against Montreal to start the year this season, it again seems like a favourable situation. The Leafs wrap up the month against the Islanders, and with the Leafs having lost once already to New York, I hold out hope that they won’t run the risk of being dominated by team that still is in need of a number of improvements.
The Leafs will need six more wins than regulation losses at the end of the season to get to the 56 points needed to ensure a playoff berth. Currently sitting 3 over, the Leafs could conceivably go 5-2 in the next couple of weeks, and then only be required to play .500 hockey the rest of the season. While I feel like I may have just jinxed the Leafs by stating it possible, I feel confident that the nature of this shortened season makes the playoffs more attainable than we’ve seen in almost a decade. At least, I’ll feel this way until March when the Leafs get to face the Bruins three times.
Your Family Day Links…
The Terrible Tyler Bozak
Hockey Analysis has some strong words on Bozak. I wouldn’t say I agree completely with the conclusions, but I certainly don’t want to see Bozak brought back next season. I’d just say he could be a 2nd line centre on certain teams.
The Leaf that we need to be the silent assassin when it counts…
Michael at VLM is looking for a Leaf who can put opponents out of their misery.
Success At The Draft: 10 Years Of Maple Leafs Draft Picks
Curt wants people to stop saying the Leafs can’t develop draft picks. This post made me nostalgic for when I went to the draft in Boston and watched the Leafs draft Luca Cerada.
Scrivens Stands Tall with his First Career Shutout
Jonas Siegel talks to Scribbles about his shutout and has some other Leafs notes as well.
Carlyle’s trust in Leafs’ enforcers grows by the game
James Mirtle takes a good look at Carlyle’s use of enforcers. I can see “It’s a man’s game” replacing Truculence and Pugnacity as the favourite buzzwords in Toronto.
Rielly gets two goals in win over the Raiders
Just a reminder that Morgan Rielly is a very good hockey player.
How the Leafs are filling their injury void
The National Post takes a look at the depth/luck combo the Leafs have been going with.
This week it Wade Arnott helped stick a fork in the Kessel rumours, nonetheless here’s the worst HFBoards Kessel trade proposal from last week.
Last but not least, Here’s Maple Leafs Hot Stove’s Harlem Shake