The Toronto Maple Leafs have played 65 games, and we know what that means.
This past set of five games was one shootout win away from perfect, but nine in five is hardly something you can complain about. The Leafs are now at 84 points which is 1.29 points per game, and the six in five pace is, of course, 1.2. The Leafs stand six whole points ahead of the pace, so they could lose five straight and be even. I don’t recommend that, however.
So let’s talk about this torrid pace the Leafs are on since about game 50. In the last 15 games, the rate has been 1.67 points per game. If you did that all year that gives you 137 points. So, obviously, no team does that all year. All seasons have ups and downs, and a lot of that is driven by external forces: injuries, strength of the opposition, travel, etc.
It is now really obvious that this year’s team has hit this strong finishing pace well before they did last year. They did it in the February doldrums, not when everyone else had locked up their playoff spot or had given up.
So when do you change the expectations, and what do you set the new hurdle at? You can’t start asking for seven points in five games. That gives you 115 points on the season, and even Tampa is unlikely to come near that this year. They’re forecast to finish at around 110 or less.
So 6.5 in 5 or 1.3 points per game seems more plausible as a goal, and that is of course, where the Leafs are right now. That is the pace that gets you 107 points on a season. So for the next 17 games, we’ll see if the Leafs can keep hitting that mark. Maybe it’s more realistic to set this as the goal for next year, but you never know until you play the games. And there’s so much random chance in winning and losing that you really can’t count on any pace being the one you’ll keep to.
The next five games start tonight! The Leafs schedule overall is very light, though, as they are the only team with 65 games in the books already.
After Florida today, they play Washington on the outdoor ice on Saturday, then Buffalo (hey, the Leafs finally play the Sabres!) on Monday, March 5. There is four days off after to recover from having to go to Buffalo. This is ideal, and gives the team a chance to work the new guy into real practices, to give Auston Matthews time to get better, and to just get everyone’s head in the game. At least I hope that’s how it goes.
After that long break, there is a Saturday home game against Pittsburgh and then three more days off before a back-to-back for game 70 and 71 on March 14 and 15. It’s a home game against Dallas and then a road game to Buffalo again, so that barely counts as travel. Or an away game.
So, yes, that’s 15 days to play 5 games. What is this, the KHL?
This next set is a mix of the worst team and two of the better teams, with two in the middle. Let’s focus on that game against Pittsburgh as another test of the Leafs’ real ability. The outdoor game is not a fair marker, so forget it.
The goal is to get six or seven points out of that, and it sure seems doable, but you still have to play the games.
See you in the middle of March for the next six-ish in five.