This NHL season has been a rollercoaster for the Toronto Maple Leafs. On paper, they look like they should be one of the best teams in the league, but they’re not even in a playoff spot right now. As of January 29th, they have a record of 26-17-7 and are only 2 points out of the picture. They could easily play themselves back in, but it won’t be easy.
One of the issues Toronto faces is keeping the puck out of their net. So far this year, they’re in the bottom 5 in terms of goals allowed, but tied for second in goals for. As you probably know, games get more important and teams tighten up defensively down the stretch, and this makes scoring lots of goals in order to win games increasingly difficult. It’s not like they don’t have the personnel to make a change either. Tyson Barrie and Morgan Reilly lead a pretty decent defensive corps, and Frederik Anderson has proven in the past that he can be a competent NHL starter in net. The problem is, he’s not really playing like it this year. So far this season, his goals against average is higher than it’s ever been, and his save percentage is seven points lower than his career average. For the Leafs to be a legitimate playoff team they’ll need him to play better, because they don’t really have an option at the backup position.
The other big issue facing the Leafs is the level of competition in the Eastern conference and in the Atlantic division as well. Sure, if the Leafs were in the same division as the our hometown Canucks team they’d be looking a lot better, but with powerhouses like Boston and Tampa Bay in your division, there’s much less breathing room. Not to mention the other Eastern division, the Metropolitan is just as good or better, which means grabbing wild card spots is very competitive. The top 3 teams in this division are Washington, Pittsburgh and New York, but Columbus, Carolina and Philadelphia are all right there as well.
Although the Leafs will have to be very good in the last few months of the season, I still believe they’ll be in the playoffs. Over the next 30 games, you have to like their chances of being able to gain a few points on the Blue Jackets, Flyers, or even Panthers with everyone in their lineup. Times like this are the exact reason why Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares signed such big contracts, so they’ll be eager to prove themselves as well. After that, no one can say for sure what will happen because as we know, the NHL playoffs is never a predictable few months. One thing is for sure though, the Leafs need to start playing like every game is a playoff game, or they might not get to play one for real this year.