Frankly, I’m astounded by the Toronto Maple Leafs’ start to this season. Based on what we’re seeing, there is now little doubt they will make the playoffs which is even more shocking. But, we all know the Leafs’ magical start to the season is about to come to an end.
It’s guaranteed that, by next Saturday against Philly, Toronto will have had their winning streak snapped. The end of the streak is irrelevant because, with it, they’ve set the foundation of fans’ expectations. It’s like they stood up on a stage, in front of about 2.3 million people and announced, “We’re gonna work our a**es off this year. Come watch.”
I am still not convinced Ron Wilson is a top-level NHL coach. Taking one team on the Stanley Cup Final in almost twenty years on the job (1998 Capitals) isn’t qualifying anyone for the Hockey Hall of Fame. But he seems to have figured out how to motivate his group. The players have channelled each other’s energy – feeding off each other.
That’s exactly why the joyride has to end soon.
THE END IS NEAR
No team can keep up that intensity for 82 games. They might be able to do it over a 25-game or a Stanley Cup Playoff run but the Leafs are several light years from that possibility right now. Over dinner, one time, an ex-NHLer told me, “A winning streak is just as easy to get on as a losing streak. It’s all just attitude.”
That is even truer in today’s NHL, where elite teams simply don’t exist anymore. The days of teams dominating the league over several years, like the Montréal Canadiens of the late 1970s or the Islanders of the early ’80s, are long gone. And that’s great for mediocre teams like the Leafs.
It means they have a real chance to win every game they play. After Friday’s win in Manhattan, Wilson said that any victories the Leafs earn early will be “in the bank” when the team hits rough spots during the remainder of the season. Two points now are just as valuable as two points in March. Not sure why fans forget that, but it’s fact.
What’s been most shocking thus far is the ease with which the Leafs have scored goals. They haven’t been held to fewer than three goals in any game. Even GM Brian Burke said their toughest hurdle this season would be goal scoring. Not so far. But their top three lines are simply not strong enough to maintain this pace for much longer.
Phil Kessel might end up with forty but, after that, it’s going to plummet fast.
Despite what living in the moment may tell you, Clarke MacArthur is not going to end the season with 40 goals. Neither is Tim Brent. The difference between teams that make the playoffs, and teams that miss, almost always comes down to one factor – their record in one-goal games. Toronto has four straight wins. Three of those were by one goal.
That alone is the most significant piece of their quick-start puzzle. It is, indeed, a brilliant start but it will end soon, so bask in it, Leafs’ fans.