As we all know far too well, the Leafs early-season record since the lockout has ranged from dismal to catastrophic. Â At the conclusion of the first month of play, we’re typically floundering on the edges of a playoff spot or in the deepest chasms of the Eastern Conference. Â So far, this year is markedly different. Â In fact, this is the first time Toronto has made it out of October with seven victories in exactly a decade, having last accomplished the feat in the 2001-2002 season that saw them hit 100 points (eventually losing to the Hurricanes in the conference finals).
But if this franchise has learned anything in its recent stretch of ineptitude, it’s that a successful season cannot be had on the back of one strong month. Â Rather, the teams that are perennial playoff features in the NHL do so through year-long consistency. Â As a unit, this team will need to avoid lengthy losing streaks through whatever means possible. Â Because sadly, while a fantastic month guarantees nothing, a disastrous one can be fatal.
You would think Toronto’s aforementioned trend of nasty Octobers would inspire the determination and effort necessary to redeem themselves in November. Â Unfortunately, this has not been the case over the last six seasons, although many would say it was simply due to a lack of some other ingredient (read: talent). Â What has transpired in the second month of these last few campaigns has been mediocrity at its finest:
November 2010: 3-7-3 (.346%)
November 2009: 5-5-3 (.500%)
November 2008: 4-6-3 (.423%)
That’s right, in Ron Wilson’s three years as head coach of this club, the Leafs have never amassed more than thirteen points in November. That’s an 82 point pace over a full season. Â Based on the best of the last three Novembers. Â Suffice to say, a similarly disappointing month in Toronto’s current campaign would all but negate their hot start. Â It would slowly but surely drag them back down to the frantic mess of teams that hover anywhere from fifth to fifteenth in the conference, clawing to the bitter end to secure a playoff position.
With that in mind, this iteration of the Toronto Maple Leafs is in an unique and refreshing position. Â Firstly, they have the requisite talent, depth, and determination to end this season in the top eight. Â More importantly, with consistent performance and continued success in the upcoming month, they can distance themselves from the pack.
Other than edging the franchise closer to it’s first playoff berth in seven years, this would provide the coach, general manager and players with the breathing room to withstand the concerted cataclysmic outcry that inevitably arises in Toronto after a stretch of bad play. Â With all the inherent pressure of playing in the biggest market the NHL has to offer, this team’s personnel could certainly benefit from a little extrinsic reinforcement of their confidence. Â But they will have to continue to earn this right through dedication as a group, beginning this Wednesday against the New Jersey Devils.