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Six in Five: So close, we might have to review this one

The Leafs won a couple of games and they are nearly back on track.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Dallas Stars Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It’s time once again for six in five, where we look at the points pace of the Maple Leafs. Okay, truthfully, it was time yesterday, so this is 7.2 in six which is not nearly so euphonious.

First the points pace broken up into chunks of five games:

Our last segment, which ended with the Chicago game, was exactly six points, and left the Leafs one point back of the sixty points they’d need to be at six in five. The win last night gave them eight points in seven games, which is over the target pace, and puts the total points at 61 in 51 or 0.2 points behind the pace.

Send it to Toronto to review that, see if it’s close enough.

Almost! You can see that the blue line is just not quite on the red path to success.

In real terms, nothing has changed, the Leafs are in third place, exactly ten points behind Tampa, and Boston is exactly five points ahead of the Leafs and five points behind Tampa. This is, unfortunately for lovers of drama, exactly how it’s likely to stay.

In terms of the rolling set of five game points, you can get a feel for the lull the Leafs have been in. Look at the blue line (this year) from about game 37 or so on. The line jitters, but it’s centered around approximately five points until the last two wins.

Last year (the red line), the Leafs went through a lull later on, and it ran from about game 50 to 65 and was centered around about 4.5 points every five games. So they’re doing much better this year at managing the season, but we have no reason to expect that level set of results to continue. It may shoot up! It may drop down.

This nicely illustrates a thing we all do that colours our perceptions. We expect the future to be just like now only more so, and yet reality is not so simple.

That clump of wins at the start of the season was “who the Leafs were” in everyone’s mind and the expectation was that would continue. When it didn’t, discontent set in. Even when another clump of wins occurred, fans were unhappy about them. Here, look:

Hockey-Reference win-loss chart for Toronto to date.

The six-game winning streak came in November, involved a couple of wins against Boston, and yet that’s about when fans got upset that the Leafs weren’t playing like they were in the first few power play infused games of the season. The wins were close — the height of the bar shows the goal differential on this graph — and as November turned to December, there were some more losses.

While we’re here, note that as December turned to January, all the games became closer. Close games have more luck involved in the outcome, and disappointment rose even higher. Swap October around in your mind. Put the four losses in five games first and the clump of wins after, and imagine how you’d feel then.

And if we did that, we’d end up right here, at 61 points in 51 games.

The past is done! Forget it, and let’s look to the future. This is the point in a season where I say, wait, there’s 30 more games? We’re only two-thirds done? With European seasons winding down and the Olympics gearing up, this dull February drive to the trade deadline can suddenly seem like a slog in the mud.

We have the return of half of the top four on defence to look forward to, and last night was the last game to start so late. There is one more 8 p.m. start time, but otherwise, we’re Eastern time zone all the way.

The next four games (we’ve played one of this set of five) gets going on Wednesday of next week. And it’s the Islanders and John Tavares coming to Toronto. Whatever will the storyline be for that game?

After than the Leafs pop right over to New York to play the Rangers the next night. Yes, you read that right, after five days off, the Leafs have a back-to-back with travel in between. This schedule is awesome!

Saturday, the Leafs play in Boston, and then they come home to face Anaheim on Monday.

Both New York teams have been shoved out of playoff spots in recent days by the inevitable rise of Pittsburgh. The not as expected rise of Philadelphia has completed the Pennsylvania over New York exchange. Both the Islanders and the Rangers are hungry for points. The Ducks are in an almost identical position in the West, and we know where Boston is.

This is going to be a tough set of games, and I don’t see any easy wins here, barring the Rangers imploding, as they seem to be bent on doing. With two points in the bag already, the Leafs need to get four to meet the quota for the set, but they need five to get back on track overall. Six would be really nice.

If nothing else, they’ll be rested and closer to a healthy set of players, so here’s hoping we’re arguing about defence pairs next week, not just taking whoever can walk and throwing them on the ice.

We’ll be back here again in a couple of weeks for another six in five, though, whatever happens.