The loss to the New York Islanders on Thursday was a big mood of a game, but it was, in case this got lost in the chaos, the only loss of the last five:
With 84 points in 65 games, the Leafs are at 1.29 points per game, and that seems to be the pace — give or take a small fraction — to get you in the top-five group of non-Tampa teams this year.
After last year’s bad lull in January/February, the Leafs never quite got to that pace overall. They finished well, but not great. With 17 games to go, this year’s team, who have consistently hit higher highs and had lulls that are shorter in duration, can better last year’s 105 points just by finishing out playing just slightly over their average. Of course, the Leafs aren’t contending against themselves so much as the Bruins.
In league standings the Leafs are fourth in points, third in ROW and second in goal differential. One notable thing about the standings is that Tampa, who seem so much better, are only three ROW ahead of Calgary and four ahead of the Leafs. The Bolts huge points margin is made up of 12 points gained from a 6-1 shootout record.
In a similar vein, Boston, who are on a hot streak right now, have five more overtime losses padding out their points lead over the Leafs as well as two shootout wins. The Leafs, as you know, have not had a shootout all year because they know how much I hate them.
What this means is that in terms of games won by playing hockey, the top three teams are fairly tight, and the entire rest of the teams in the top 16 by ROW range from 38 for San Jose to 32 for Vegas. The bad teams are all very tightly packed too, with the bottom five all at 21 or 22 ROW and six more at 24 or 25.
The schedule for the next five
The Leafs head out on their last big road trip of the season, and I sure liked the old days where these all happened in the first half, but they didn’t consult me on this.
Tomorrow, Monday, is a real test of a game against the west’s best as the Leafs play the Calgary Flames. Then on Wednesday, it’s the Vancouver Canucks, who are bad. On Saturday, the Leafs visit the Edmonton Oilers, who are also bad. All three Two off those games begin at 9 p.m, and the Oilers game is at 7 p.m.
The Leafs come home from that jaunt to face test number two against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday, March 11. So far this season, these two teams have played twice, they split the wins, and the goals are five for the Leafs and six for the Bolts. Both games featured the Leafs playing extremely well, so we should expect a good game.
The fifth game of the set is a week Wednesday, meaning these five games take only 10 days to play. Chicago, who are bad, come to visit.
We likely won’t see any of Garret Sparks as this set is decently spaced out, even if it is packed into a short period of time.The second half of March that features more back-to-backs. What we will likely see is some rotation of the press box extras in and out of the lineup, as the Leafs look to cover for injured players and keep everyone ready for the playoffs. There’s been no timeline given, but I would expect Nazem Kadri to hit the ice during this road trip.
After this easy five games, all of which the Leafs could win, because the Leafs can beat any team, the schedule gets tighter as we race to the last day and a game against the Habs.
What are the odds?
There hasn’t been any point in talking playoff odds this season. Despite the occasional panicky theory about ending up out of a playoff spot, the Leafs have been at 99 per cent most of the year to make the playoffs. Moneypuck has the Leafs at 99.43 per cent right now.
To make the second round, they are at 48.9 per cent and Boston is at 49.9 per cent. To make the third round, they are at 23.4 per cent and Boston is at 23.7. The way the model works, the superior quality of the Leafs players is pitted against the Bruins high shotshare. When you look at Expected Goals percentage, they are virtually tied.
Destiny seems set for a rematch, so we have 17 games to face up to that.