The Maple Leafs are set to visit the New York Islanders tonight, a team that has taken it to the Buds since John Tavares came over to join the Leafs as a free agent to begin last season. Following 4-0 and 6-1 losses to the Isles, the Leafs finally squeaked out a 2-1 win in one of their final games of the 2018/19 season. I expect this Islanders team to come in to the game with the same chip on their shoulder as they did last year.
While the Islanders will always have that reason to take their game to the next level against the Leafs, it seems as if the Leafs are perpetually searching for reasons to show up against anyone. Arch rival, captains favourite team, best young stars childhood team, the bigger the reason to show up the less chance they have at actually doing so. Prove me wrong Leafers.
Luckily they have Zach Hyman returning to the lineup, look for him to give the Leafs a bit more jump.
What impact will Hyman make on Leafs 23rd-ranked PK?
Kapanen: "Huge impact. He does it really well, that's one of the best parts of his game. The PK hasn't been what we want it to be so we have to take a step in the right direction & I think Hymie's exactly what we need"
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) November 13, 2019
I’m not about to call this rock bottom, but a quick glance at the standings doesn’t distill hope in the average fan.
The Leafs currently sit in the 2nd, and final, wild card spot in the East. However, the teams directly behind them are all in a great position to succeed, and with a loss tonight the Leafs could find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture as early as this weekend.
The Carolina Hurricanes, just 1 point behind the Leafs, have 1 game in hand. A win tomorrow against the Buffalo Sabers would see the Buds sink a spot in the standings.
The Buffalo Sabers, as chance would have it, are just 2 points behind the Leafs and have 2 games in hand. Worst case scenario has them going to extra time against Carolina tomorrow, and then winning their next contest. That would sink the Leafs down another spot in the standings.
The Tampa Bay Lightning find themselves 4 points out of the final wild card spot and have a whopping 4 games in hand. With 3 of their next 4 games being against teams outside of the playoff picture, it’s a much easier stretch of hockey than the Maple Leafs are looking at.
All three of those teams could pass Toronto in short order. So the question now is what is this team truly made of? With the Islanders tonight, Boston and Pittsburgh on Friday and Saturday respectively, Vegas and Arizona on tap next week, and a tilt against Colorado 10 days from now, they aren’t facing anything but playoff teams for the next 6 games.
To make matters worse, they get a small reprieve with a visit to Detroit (I know I know, I jinxed it), before a home-and-home versus the Buffalo Sabres…. you know, one of the teams fighting to catch them in the standings? And THEN they get to face nothing but playoff teams for another 6 games before taking on the Buffalo Sabers yet again…. you know, one of the teams that’s currently chasing them for the final wild card spot.
This schedule is going to be hell.
If they want to survive it’s really this simple, they need to buck the trend of playing poorly (I could stop there) against playoff teams. They hold a 3-5-3 record against teams that hold down a playoff spot as of this writing, and simply put, that just isn’t good enough.
They also don’t have a single regulation win against a playoff team this year.
So there you have it, 16 games to come, one bottom dweller and the rest against teams that are in the playoffs or are closely chasing the Leafs for the final wild card spot.
Which brings me to the second half of the title of this article.
Is this the stretch of hockey that will make or break Mike Babcocks time in Toronto? Could a 16 game stretch that starts tonight and culminates with a game against their rival, the Buffalo Sabers, on December 17th, be what finally sinks the Leafs head coach? If the team can’t play a consistent brand of hockey against other top teams, then will management even have a choice but to search for another voice in the room?
I have long been a fan of Mike Babcock, but at a certain point you have to admit that even the best coaches have a shelf life, and you have to wonder if Mikes has come and gone in Toronto.
I hate to say it, but the kids no longer seem to be willing to play a determined game of hockey underneath him. While none of us are in the room and can’t really know what’s happening within those confines, if this is true then it’ll be proven beyond doubt in the next few weeks.
New York Islanders
PP%: 17.8% (20th in NHL)
PK%: 85.1% (8th in NHL)
GF/GP: 3.00 (15th in NHL)
GA/GP: 2.19 (1st in NHL)
S/GP: 27.6 (31st in NHL)
SA/GP: 32.1 (20th in NHL)
PP%: 18.2% (17th in NHL)
PK%: 77.1% (23rd in NHL)
GF/GP: 3.32 (10th in NHL)
GA/GP: 3.16 (20th in NHL)
S/GP: 33.6 (7th in NHL)
SA/GP: 33.1 (25th in NHL)
#Isles at morning skate
(Brassard back at center)
Ladd-Dobson an extra D pair
Koivula an extra F
— Andrew Gross (@AGrossNewsday) November 13, 2019
#Leafs lines at practice:
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) November 12, 2019