Every cloud is supposed to have a silver lining.
For the Toronto Maple Leafs, through 21 games of their NHL season with a disappointing nine wins so far, there’s a case to be made that some of this is due to bad luck.
They have a sub-100 PDO and a top-10 scoring chances-for percentage at 5-on-5, per Natural Stat Trick. Their team shooting percentage, with its myriad of weapons, is middle of the pack after finishing third last season. Frederik Andersen wasn’t his tip-top self through the first month.
And, of course, injuries have hit hard. John Tavares missed more than two weeks. Mitch Marner was forced to the sidelines for the long-term and another heart and soul player, Trevor Moore, was the latest contributor to go down Friday night. He won’t join the team on its next stop in Pittsburgh.
Even this loss to the always-tough, division-leading Bruins, a 4-2 decision that leaves Toronto with just two standings points in their last four contests, could be painted as not all bad. The Leafs recorded more scoring chances than the Bruins and had a 56.3-per cent Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5.
“I thought we played well and it was a good hockey game,” Mike Babcock said after the loss.
At some point these good efforts will start breaking their way.
This is the fourth consecutive loss for a Cup-hopeful Leafs team sitting outside a playoff spot, with more games played than their immediate competition. The more troubling trends are that the Leafs have the sixth-worst high-danger chance percentage at 5-on-5 (the highest quality of all chances), a 20th-ranked power play that was shut out by the Bruins, and that they’ve given up the game’s first goal in 16 of their 21 contests.
The reality is that, despite a tough schedule to start the season — which has included five back-to-back situations (six including the pair of games they have Friday and Saturday) — it’s time to start being concerned about this team. After all, in their past 14 games, the Maple Leafs have earned just two regulation wins.
“There’s a huge sense of urgency,” captain John Tavares said after the latest loss, before reaching back to find that uplifting note. “The positive is we got another great opportunity tomorrow and we’ve got a lot of hockey left to play. So it’s not going to just change overnight — we gotta continue to put the work in and fix our mistakes and continue to find ways to be better and stay with it, because it’s going to be hard.”
You think the first 21-game stretch has been difficult, how about this upcoming six-game road trip the team now stares down, which starts Saturday night in Pittsburgh? The upside, which always seems to have at least a background presence in these parts, is that the Penguins also will be on the second half of a back-to-back and are missing their own superstar with Sidney Crosby out of the lineup.
Of course, the Maple Leafs and Blackhawks met last Sunday, both playing the second half of back-to-backs, and Toronto fell behind 3-0 in the first and went on to lose 5-4.
The second of these back-to-backs has been a nightmare for the Leafs this season, as they’ve yet to earn a win in those situations. And, as Babcock confirmed Friday, Kasimir Kaskisuo, a 26-year-old career AHL netminder to this point, will get his first NHL start after the team waived Michael Hutchinson this week.
“We gotta do a good job early, but you hope he gets some shots early too and settles in and plays the way he possibly can and we’ve got to look after him.”
The good news is that the Maple Leafs have 61 games left in the season and, it would seem, bounces should start going their way a little more often, eventually. But the more sobering takeaway is that they sit here in mid-November with a 33.4 per cent chance of making the playoffs, per MoneyPuck.com.
Yes, it’s outrageous to cite that number at this point in the year. But it wasn’t supposed to be this much of a battle to get to even .500 hockey at any point for a Maple Leafs organization that may be icing its best team possible in 2019-20.