As of right now, the Toronto Maple Leafs are 2nd in their division with an 18-5-6 record — good for 42 points. They sit exactly one point back of the Boston Bruins who have 43 points. Now, Boston also has three games in hand to build on that lead, but the interesting thing is how close Toronto has closed that gap given how each of the two teams started their seasons.
Toronto struggled in the early part of the season, but still floated around .500. They just looked pretty bad against not good teams. Then November hit and their current hot streak began.
Boston started the season on a hot streak, and haven’t really come off it yet. They’ve lost only five games all season — four in regulation and one in overtime. But one of those came against Toronto, and three of them have come in their last 10 games.
The underlying numbers all support Boston being the better team so far, but that gap has also started to close recently with Toronto’s good play. Mind you, that gap is still a lot bigger than the one point gap in the standings.
But it makes you wonder... hockey is a pretty random sport. There are times when the hockey gods chew up and spit out your underlying numbers and past trends for fun. Boston could deal with a sudden bout of bad injuries, like Toronto has. Their goalies could forget how to stop pucks. They could have insanely bad luck with calls not going their way leading to last second loss in regulation against the Arizona Coyotes.
Arizona just won the game with 13.5 seconds left 🤯 pic.twitter.com/cuwUtNUJ75— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) December 10, 2022
So even if they look like the better team, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything as far as Toronto’s ability to pass them in the standings goes. The fact that they’re close now makes it a not absurd possibility. For what it’s worth, I’d bet against it happening.
LINKS FROM THE BRANCHES
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As if we didn’t already know this from the last 1,200 times it’s come up...
The Leafs’ 832 penalties drawn on home ice since the start of the Auston Matthews era are the fourth-fewest of any team in the league on a per-60 basis.
In terms of power-play time per home game, the Leafs are 31st of 32 since 2016-17 at 4:38 per night. A small part of that is due to a consistently strong power play (i.e. it pretty often scores before the two minutes are up), but in terms of power-play opportunities at home, they rank 26th per home game since 2016-17.
Although it was a loss, there was one fascinating wrinkle that came during the opening of overtime. The Marlies started two defencemen in William Villeneuve and Mikko Kokkonen alongside Logan Shaw. Then, when Toronto won the face-off, Villeneuve came off and Bobby McMann came on. Later that night, when the Maple Leafs went to overtime against the Calgary Flames, they did the exact same thing.
Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe started David Kampf with Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren in overtime. Sandin ultimately took a stick to the face, which gave Toronto a power play. But I wonder if Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner would’ve came on if the play continued.
Inside Akim Aliu and the Hockey Diversity Alliance’s mission to grow the game from the grassroots | long but great by Sportsnet.
“We came together and we said, ‘What are we going to do for the next generation?’” Aliu remembers. “To amplify the contributions of the Black community to hockey, but also to create a platform for these kids, for the next generation to be able to have a smoother ride into competitive hockey and, hopefully, into professional hockey.
“We came up with this idea of going into the 12 priority designated communities [in Toronto], your underserved communities — the Regent Parks, the Jane-and-Finches, Malvern, Albion — and we said, ‘Let’s provide hockey free of cost.’”
Hope you’ve all been buying Artur Akhtyamov stock, because he’s on a rocket ship right now.
#LeafsForever prospect Artur Akhtyamov with a 36 save shutout today. He's up to a .946 sv% with 4 shutouts in 23 games, tied for first in the league. In his last 9 games, his worst game was a .927 sv% -- he is the platonic ideal of "dialed in" right now. pic.twitter.com/bmFrtBEeFe— More like Nikita GREATbyonkin (@brigstew86) December 11, 2022
We stan Willy in this blog.
Somehow despite being excellent for the highest- profile team in the league for years Nylander doesn't get enough press, for mine. Great at creating offence in all situations, great finish, great playmaker, keeps his team out of the box, and no defensive weaknesses. Man. pic.twitter.com/vMnghlZ9js— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) December 11, 2022
For those who like to form interpersonal relationships with athletes through PR content like this:
Will Toronto actually finish ahead of Boston in the standings?
|Can’t wait to see how they pass the Bruins but it still fucks their season over