The NHL season is a marathon not a sprint and each leg of the course is unique. In this seven part series we’ll look at the make up of each one, how the Leafs have fared, what games they’ll need to win, and what games we’d love to see. We’ll even do it for the months that the Leafs don’t show up to play.
The Toronto Maple Leafs hold the record for most wins to start the season (no gimmicks edition) with the 10 they picked up on the trot in 1993-94. While a repeat of that start isn’t likely the Leafs do have a good opportunity to off to a strong start. As much as Howard Berger might suggest otherwise, two points are important regardless of when they are picked up. The schedule makers have been kind to a team that needs to avoid falling into an early hole.
Thursday, October 6 vs Montreal
Saturday, October 8 vs Ottawa
Saturday, October 15 vs Calgary
Monday, October 17 vs Colorado
Wednesday, October 19 vs Winnipeg
Thursday, October 20 at Boston
Saturday, October 22 at Montreal
Monday, October 24 at Philadelphia
Thursday, October 27 at New York Rangers
Saturday, October 29 vs Pittsburgh
Sunday, October 30 at Ottawa
The schedule makers could not have handed a better schedule to a team that needs a good start to the season to recapture the momentum from a strong second half of last season. Five straight games at home, four against non-playoff teams including two teams that will likely be neck-and-neck for the 1st overall pick in 2012, and a week off after the first two games to work on any kinks that remain after the pre-season.
Record Since The Lockout
Total – 27-27-16
One of those years really stands out. The rest of the years tell the same story: the Leafs have almost uniformly muddled their way through the first month of the season. This year’s schedule certainly shapes up to follow a similar path to last year. Their cushy start soon gives way to four straight road games including trip to bogey teams like the new look Flyers, the defending Cup champs Bruins, and the diminuitive Habs.
Some might saw it’s Winnipeg’s first trip to Toronto since sometime before they lost their team because the city was too poor to sustain it. But they are still Atlanta and who looks forward to a game against the Thrashers? No one. Instead, by the power vested in me as the writer of this post, I am going to label opening night one of the big games for the month for obvious reasons. The Leafs haven’t made too many earth-shattering moves but it will represent the debuts in blue and white of Cody Franson and Tim Connolly as well as the start of the full-time James Reimer Era…hopefully.
The Eastern Conference, in my mind, is mostly in terms of playoff spots. Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, Tampa, and Pittsburgh are locks to make the playoffs. The Leafs will be battling the Habs, Rangers, Devils, Hurricanes, and Sabres for the final three spots so it’ll be important that they pick off as many points off of those teams as possible. That makes the visit to Madison Square Garden vital. If only to show Brad Richards the error of his ways.
The city might have changed but the division has not so Winnipeg’s visit to Toronto will be one of the early banana peels that the Leafs will have to handle. A Southeast conference team in town for a midweek game is basically kryptonite. The other game the Leafs need to win is Colorado’s visit to Toronto. The Leafs are in tough in the East without throwing away points against teams that will likely finish in the lottery positions.
The Leafs kicked off last year 4-0-0 including this game where Jean-Sebastien Giguere was the hero, Phil Kessel showed his value, and Clarke MacArthur gave a glimpse of what was to come. The wheels fell off soon enough but it was a hell of an opening night.