Earlier this year Mike Babcock took heat for saying the Leafs should pick up six points in every five games, and that was his measure for success. He took a lot of heat for it, especially considering at the time, the Leafs were in consideration for possibly winning the division, Presidents trophy, and I’m sure if I put in a few minutes of research, I could find a few hockey men who had predicted the Leafs to win the cup. The six points in five games would put the Leafs on pace for a 98 point season, but just how are they doing in comparison to that target now?
Well, we can see where Mike Babcock didn’t do so hot, and bottoming out at zero points in five games really shows that by his own metric, he had to go. As for Keefe, well, his late November through early January heater is what has given him a significantly higher number, but since January 12 he hasn’t had a whole lot of success of staying above the six point benchmark either. Starting goaltender injuries, as well as injuries to three defensemen will do that to you, not that Babcock’s time was completely injury free either.
Hopefully, we’re through the worst of it (*immediately knocks on wood*) and with Rielly and (*cough*) Ceci returning this month, and a presumably reliable secondary goaltending option available, the Leafs should still find their way to the playoffs, even if they don’t do it at a 6 points over 5 games pace.
Which brings us to this week…
It’s more fun in the sun time for the Leafs this week. Last week, they made the most of Florida, picking up a couple of wins defeating the Lightning and the Panthers. This week, the Leafs are off to the West Coast to face three of the worst teams in the league, while sitting on a 5 point cushion over the Panthers.
Now, it may seem like a lot to be asking the Leafs to push their current three game win streak into a six game win streak, but these are their easiest wins, as the schedule gets much harder after this and putting the Panthers out of their misery now is the humane thing to do.
Following this road trip the Leafs will face the Lightning, Predators, and Bruins the following week, and while the Devils, Islanders, and Blue Jackets week that follows that looks friendly, the fact that they have games against Carolina, Tampa, Florida, and Washington.
The Panthers only have a couple of games this week, and will start off against Boston, who they face twice this month. They also face the Blues twice this month, but then other than the Leafs and Stars, they don’t face any other teams in a playoff spot.
Assuming the Leafs fall into their worst prolonged stretch of hockey of the season over a 16 game period, they’d have 13 points, meaning the Panthers would just have to string together a 8-6-2 record over their remaining games to get in. Not impossible, but the odds of the Leafs playing their worst hockey, at the same time the Panthers pull themselves out of their current funk seems like it’s banking on a lot of things needing to go Florida’s way.
It’s starting to make sense why the Leafs are presently sitting at 90.2% odds of making the playoffs according to MoneyPuck, their highest odds of the season and first time over 90% since January 5th. While having concerns about this team is still understandable, there does seem to be a high level of certainty we’ll still be watching games after April 4th.