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Six in Five: The Maple Leafs are in an unexpected place

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Was that road trip good or bad? Are the Leafs in freefall or ticking along?

Toronto Maple Leafs v Vegas Golden Knights
Somedays, man, I wonder why I do this job.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Game 40 is in the books, the calendar has changed to 2018, and the Maple Leafs are almost halfway through this hockey season. Are you pessimistic or optimistic for the next 42 games? Is it all falling apart, and the team should call up half the Marlies and trade these bums they’ve got, or is it all just rolling along?

Are you a half full or half empty sort of person?

Six points in five games works out to 48 points at the 40 game mark, and the Leafs have exactly that number. They lost a couple of road games and look a little shaky against top lines with Nazem Kadri out with an injury, but they are right on track for 98 points.

More importantly, and this is a blessing and a curse, there is no one right now in the Atlantic division capable of catching the Leafs for third place. They are neck-and-neck with Boston, who also have 48 points with three games in hand, but Florida is nine points back. Yes, in case you’ve ignored the bottom of the Eastern Conference, the entire rest of the Atlantic is clumped there with Florida on top.

With five points gained, mostly on the road, this last section is almost good enough to meet the quota, and there are four segments under and four at or over six points.

The ups and downs of a season are clearer in the rolling line graph, and you can see that last year’s ups only outdid this year’s a couple of times. It’s a subtle difference, but it is the difference between needing a late-season surge to make the wild card spot and having a regular playoff spot sewn up early.

People asked for a cumulative graph, and so I made it, and here it is:

That shows that the Leafs have always been ahead of last year’s points totals. I can tell you that in a sentence, obviously, so I’m not sure I’ll post this one again unless it reveals something more.

That was last year’s results. Forget that, and face the future.

The Leafs start up again tomorrow, and play five games at home every other day, like clockwork. There’s no travel, no back-to-backs, and it finishes with the bye week that runs from January 11 to the 15.

The strength of competition is a mixed bag. There’s Tampa to start, then San Jose, who are good, and then Vancouver who aren’t. That’s followed up by Columbus, who are losing a lot lately and Ottawa who, let’s face it, have the perfect game to beat the Leafs even if they are in freefall heading for Buffalo territory.

To get six points out of that five games, the Leafs have to beat a good team more than once. If you’re a playoff team, you should be able to, no matter who is injured, but this week will be a big test of the youngest members of the team.

Don’t expect Nikita Zaitsev back until the bye week is over, and Kadri? Who knows.

Hey, if it was easy, Montréal would be able to do it, so get ready to cheer on the Leafs through the dark cold heart of winter, and set aside some springtime evenings for playoff games.