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The 5-Game Process: Will this winning get boring?

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The Leafs remain in the top echelon of the league standings and are third in the Atlantic. That’s just how it is right now.

Boston Bruins v Toronto Maple Leafs
Ozzie doesn’t just score goals, he checks guys with his mind-powers.
Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

The Maple Leafs have finished 25 games and have 34 points. That’s enough to lead half the divisions in the NHL. But the Atlantic is a special place this year, and they’re in third! We likely shouldn’t hold our breaths waiting for the Atlantic tangle to unknot, but digging a little deeper, there are two clear leaders in the division.

The Standings

If you judge the standings not by points, but by ROW (regulation or overtime wins), the Leafs lead with 17, and that’s tied with Nashville for the league lead too. Tampa has 16 (35 points) and Buffalo has 13 (34 points). Buffalo are riding a lovely winning streak, but their wins are coming from a lot of one-goal games. Their results have more luck than skill compared to the other two teams in the mix. Buffalo are legitimately a playoff team, for sure, but they aren’t really producing in the class of Tampa, Toronto and Nashville.

Prior to last night’s games the goal differential with empty net and shootout goals removed was:

  • Toronto: 25
  • Tampa: 22
  • Buffalo: 8

It still looks reasonable to forecast the Leafs and the Lightning fighting for first place in the Atlantic and the Eastern Conference all season long. Below that Buffalo has a lot of competition for the other playoff spots. This won’t be sorted out before the trade deadline.

The points pace for the Leafs is 1.36 points per game right now, and they’ve been very consistent:

The Leafs have gotten to this point by never losing more than two games in a row, but they’ve only won five in a row once. They’ve still got no points from overtime losses, the only team in the league that can say that. They’ve never been in a shootout and have only three of their wins in overtime. After 25 games last year, they had 31 points.

Given the situation in the Atlantic, getting to and keeping a pace of 1.4 points per game or more might be very difficult; although Tampa is there now, a couple of losses and they won’t be.

Comparing to last year’s unachieved goal of 1.3 points per game, you can see that the Leafs have been doing better, but the differences are very subtle. The final result of something over 100 points seems likely for Tampa and Toronto, but so far neither team has shown they’re gunning for more than 105.

The Schedule

The December schedule looks exactly like an SHL schedule where the teams usually play every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. This is a very balanced lead-in to the holiday break, and the Leafs need to take advantage of the practice time they’ll have to work that new guy into the lineup. If they ever sign him, that is.

First up, is the home game tomorrow against the Sharks. The Sharks were revealed to only be a top team in the Pacific when the teams last met, but they aren’t going to be an easy opponent.

December 1 is a road game in Minnesota, and the Wild have backed off a little on their challenge to Nashville for dominance in the Central. This will be a very tough game, and if Tyler Ennis is still on the roster, he’ll want all the goals.

The Leafs then move on to Buffalo for the first look at the Sabres this year. It will be very interesting to see how this team looks on the ice, rather than just in the standings.

Game four of this next set is back at home to the Detroit Red Wings. They’re all goalie, no skaters this season, and that formula can be painful sometimes and a blowout others.

The set finishes with another trip to Boston. Them again. This is the Saturday night game, and if they don’t throw Jaro Halak at the Leafs again, I’ll be surprised.

Every game is winnable here, and ten points would be wonderful, but the most important days might actually be December 2 and 3 at home to practice between the Minnesota and Buffalo games.

There’s lots of rest and easy travel here, and I’ll be shocked if we see Garret Sparks again until after Christmas.

Next time we check on the process, the Leafs will have a different roster, one way or another, and it will be interesting to see how or it that impacts the results. The last five games had a standard just over 50 per cent shot share for the Leafs, but a worryingly low Expected Goals share. They won the five-on-five play by overshooting expected (which we should always expect) by a small amount, and having very good goaltending. Auston Matthews might fix that Expected Goals differential all by himself. That’s something we’ll look for in the coming weeks.

See you after 30 games.