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5-Game Process: Time to get serious edition

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You know who finished last season fairly poorly? The Toronto Maple Leafs.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Toronto Maple Leafs
And a child shall lead them?
Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Good morning! This is a great day to look back on the Leafs last five games and ahead to the next five.

The Leafs currently have 89 points in 70 games, which is 1.27 points per game, so they are sticking to the approximate 1.3 points per game pace they’ve settled into for most of the season.

This set was one win away from being a good one, and as per the entire season, barring that one time, the Leafs did not lose more than two in a row. The consistency of the pace is there, hidden in what has felt at times like a roller coaster ride.

Comparing to last year on points pace, something interesting is revealed:

In the last 12 games of last season — so the games that correspond to the rest of this season — the Leafs were not very good. They managed only 16 points, they lost the final two games, and they finished up with a record-setting points total for a Leafs team with 103.

That pace was not terrible, it’s just over 1.3 points per game, but coming on the heels of that long sagging downturn from about game 30 to game 65, it was just enough to be respectable. This season, the Leafs are playing right now in the last ten games or so about how they finished. And it doesn’t feel like a strong showing. It’s not terrible, to be sure, but it’s not peak performance.

Leaving aside the really obvious reasons why they aren’t at their peak, now is a better time to suck than a few weeks from now. The last period of the Chicago game last night, the Leafs came close to a record-setting number of shots on goal, which is a very, very large margin over and above what scoring effects can explain and isn’t caused by the other team changing goalies. That was peak performance.

Now it just needs to happen for 12 more games. You know the standings, you know the Leafs are still able to win home ice advantage for the first round. They need to win more games than usual to get that. If it was easy, anyone could do it.

Next Five Games

Like every set of five games at the end of this oddly-scheduled season, this next five comes at you fast.

On Friday, the Leafs host the Flyers, who are in that grey limbo area of being really unlikely to make the playoffs, but not so far out at five points behind Columbus and Montréal, who are in their way, that they’ve given up. Also, it’s the Flyers with their new coach, and they’re a brand new team. Wow, that sounds familiar.

On Saturday, in the second of a back-to-back that involves the short jaunt to our summer home, the Leafs play the Ottawa Senators. What the Sens are on any given night with their new head coach, but none of their good players, is anyone’s guess. This will be a Garret Sparks start, I would assume, and he is coming off a very good half a game, so that’s a plus for him.

Next week, there is another back-to-back on the road. The Leafs make their traditional late season run to Nashville, and then come back to our other second home in Buffalo. Nashville wants first place in the central, so they’re in a season-ending race, while the Sabres run of wins in one-goal games fizzled, and they’re just playing out the last few games out of the race. They hate us, though, so that’s not an easy game.

The fifth game is a home game a week Saturday vs the tanking New York Rangers. They have great goaltending, which makes losing difficult, and this game will be a tough one even though it looks like a walk on paper.

You can’t predict the outcome in advance with certainty, but Moneypuck’s model shows the Leafs with the higher probability of winning four of the five, with only Nashville having the edge. That means even the other road games are more likely to go to the Leafs despite the lack of home ice advantage.

You have to actually play them, though, and play them like you mean it.

In a very short time, I’ll be back to see how this worked out.