This season seems like it’s going to come down to the Leafs failing their way into a playoff spot that we don’t really think they deserve. At least that’s how I’ve felt since their first disastrous game against Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago.
They lost 3 of 4, with all three loses coming in varying forms of embarrassing. They also had arguably their best game of the year in the one win, and followed it up with good (not great) wins against Tampa, Florida, and Vancouver. They opened a 5 point lead on Florida, it seemed they had put the bad losses behind them and were at least being okay for most games.
And then the California road trip happened, and as is tradition the Leafs played those three games as a proverbial truck driver that wound up at the bottom of a cliff. Against three bad teams, the Leafs managed three goals and got shut out for the first time all year. They were outplayed for much of all three games, against three bad teams.
And you know what? This coming week they have games against Tampa, Nashville and Boston and I fully expect they’ll find a way to win all three of them. Because that’s what it’s been like all year — incredibly inconsistent, unpredictably predictable. They do the opposite what it seems like they should do.
And sure, there’s some excuses built into their Jekyll and Hyde season. Lots of injuries, coaching changes, weird schedules, shoddy goaltending, yada yada yada. Yet none of those individually really explain just how all over the place their season has been. I don’t even think all of it together does.
What the hell are they? They’ve got lots of talent but don’t seem to trust them outside of their top two lines. Their backup is outperforming their starter. Their coach is reinventing hockey to make it profoundly boring in a whole new way. Auston Matthews is in the race for the scoring title and improving his defense to at least be average. Nylander and Hyman are having breakout seasons. But Marner and Tavares have not replicated the magic of last season.
And because the rest of the division is so bad this year, the Leafs are going to find themselves in the playoffs almost by default. Barring one more surprising streak we expect them to lose, of course.
Part of me is secretly hoping that part of this insane season will result in them sweeping Tampa and Boston back to back in a blaze of glory. But I’m a Leafs fan, I know that the insanity that is the Toronto Maple Leafs never leads to a happy ending.
ONTO THE LINKS
Mailbag: One Hundred Miniature Auston Matthews | by Fulemin
Toronto Marlies’ playoff hopes dwindling after Belleville lights them up for eight | by Mark Rackham at MLHS
A Little Love for ‘Marv’ | by Doug Doucette
Speaking of the Marlies, some good news on their injury front...
Marlies injury update: Greg Moore says Nic Petan (Out since Feb. 8, shoulder) and Jesper Lindgren (Out since Jan. 24, high ankle sprain) both ready to return. No timeline for return of Kasimir Kaskisuo and Adam Brooks.— Joshua Kloke (@joshuakloke) March 6, 2020
AROUND THE HOCKEY WORLD
Why the NHL’s salary cap is actually unlikely to rise much next season | by James Mirtle