The Toronto Maple Leafs have won five of their last six, and saw a modestly good winning streak end at the hands of a team currently occupying one of the final two wild card spots, in a game that ended up being decided in overtime.
You’d think those numbers would make them happy.
Unfortunately it wasn’t the what, but the how.
Once more for the Maple Leafs, the old familiar habit of squandering a lead in the third period reared its ugly head in Washington. It seems they went to the well one too many times perhaps, as the Capitals were able to grab the second point, costing the Leafs in what is becoming an increasingly tight yet available for the taking Atlantic Division.
As pointed out by Dimitri Filipovic in a must-read article on Sportsnet, the blue and white are unfortunately no strangers to being in such a position. Toronto is 29th in the entire league when it comes to collecting points in one goal games, with only the Coyotes below them.
The Leafs have secured only 21 of a possible 40 points in games decided by one goal, good for just 52.5%.
And while many can argue, likely correctly, that a few more bounces one way or the other could change their luck, it’s difficult not to look at the standings and reminisce about where they would be if they were able to secure even half of those points they’ve left on the table.
The object of the game is to win as many games as possible, and procure as many points as possible. That’s not news to anyone.
Hearing Mike Babcock speak for even a minute, it becomes abundantly clear they are not in the business of losing.
“I didn’t think we were very good”, Babcock told the media following the overtime loss. “I thought the power play was good enough, but we weren’t good enough.”
But it’s not time to panic. In fact, that’s the last thing this team needs at present.
Yes, the allure of the playoffs is getting tantalizingly close. And if you subscribe to the theory that one must “lose in order to know how to win”, then you understand that a playoff birth for this young team-no matter how short-would provide invaluable experience they will eventually require to take the next step.
But there needn’t be a rush to judgment.
One needs to keep focus of the very fact that the reason the rebuild is going so well in its present incarnation is due to patience.
So, it’s understandable that there was a fair amount of hand wringing and teeth gnashing amongst many in Leafs Nation waking up this morning to articles asking whether the team should pull the trigger on a move that would help them get into the playoffs this season.
Now there’s moves to be made here. Transactions that the Leafs brass should, and very likely will, consider. But there is a fundamental difference between acquiring a defender who will help solidify the back end now and in the long-term, and mortgaging a part of the future for some overpriced insurance on deadline day.
If last night’s game, and the previous in which leads evaporated, were any indication; the need to clear up the issues on the back end are becoming greater and greater.
The rookies are playing fantastic, and the team is certainly scoring enough. Frederik Andersen deserves heaps of credit for turning his early season struggles around and is proving to be more than capable of shutting the door night in and night out.
Many around the league are speaking about how they feel the Maple Leafs are finally for real. Even some of the top superstars have taken notice.
“It’s fun to play against those guys”, said Ovechkin, who scored the overtime winner. “It’s always fun to watch how they change. They’re young, they’re fast, obviously have lots of skill up front. It was a great game.”
The make up of the Toronto Maple Leafs is becoming clearer by the day. And just as the positives and most important aspects of their game are abundantly obvious, so too are the shortcomings.
And that’s why the time actually may well be right for a move to stabilize the back end by offering one of the teams forwards for a young defenseman who can fill multiple roles.
But it has to be one that makes sense. A panic buy to get them over the hump this year seems a little shortsighted.
There’s avenues this team can take that will make them better now and in the future.
The job of the Leafs management going forward it to make sure the deals they make serve those purposes, and don’t represent the backwards thinking that has haunted the team in the past.