I probably don’t have to point out to anyone that, with the Leafs’ final 20-game stretch beginning tonight in Los Angeles, every game from here on is absolutely crucial. And if you take a quick look at the current standings, I think anyone can see that, sitting at 69 points, Toronto likely needs to reel off a record that can get them about 23-25 points in this last run in order to have a realistic shot at squeaking into the playoffs. Think something like 11-6-3 or thereabouts.
This will be a tough grind, especially with four back-to-backs on in the cards, how does this final stretch look in terms of overall opponent difficulty? Are the odds looking particularly stacked against this team, or is this last stretch littered with a lot of junk teams? With a quick look at the remaining schedule and a little number crunching, the answer appears to be somewhere in-between.
WINNERS AND LOSERS
The easy way to get a handle on what the Leafs have in front of them is a quick look at the standings. In this case I just captured the points-percentage of each club they’ll face over the next month and a bit, and aside from a couple short tough stretches, the competition is fairly mediocre.
At a glance this is basically good-bad-good-bad in terms of stretches of opponents. But overall, you could argue the Leafs are only set to face three, maybe four real contenders in these next 20 games. It could be much worse.
Obviously points in the standings isn’t the only indicator of whether or not a team might give the Leafs a handful on any given night. It goes without saying that in this version of the NHL it seems like every game is a toss-up, but there are a few teams that haven’t put many wins in the bank but have shown good underlying numbers throughout the season.
Here’s how things look in terms of score-adjusted CorsiFor% for these remaining opponents (via PuckOn.net).
Again, with the disclaimer in mind that every team can be dangerous, this is a relatively mediocre group overall. Of course all of those divisional games will be of the utmost importance, but as we can see, Boston has been strong club waiting in the weeds all season and could be a tough team to keep pace with.
The Bruins aside, the Leafs control a good portion of their own fate with two games apiece against Tampa and (more importantly) Florida. Whether they get in very well could hinge on those matchups. On the other end of that, two each against the Sabres and Wings are points that Toronto has to put in the bank.
At the end of the day, this team just has to get it done one way or another. This slate of games won’t play out perfectly with wins against the bad teams and losses against the good ones. There’ll be twists and turns, but right now here’s how it shapes up, and this task doesn’t look too daunting.