On Monday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs head to San Jose for their first game of the dreaded California road trip. Although it’s early, it’s a stretch that could be a defining point for the Leafs season.
California Road Trip is Defining Stretch for Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs, 7-4, currently sit in third place in the Atlantic division. Not a bad start for head coach Mike Babcock’s squad.
But the results recently have been more of a cause for alarm. Toronto has lost three of their last four games, giving up a combined 22 goals in those losses. It begs the question: Which of Toronto’s poor defensive performances have been Mike Babcock’s favorite?
Presumably, none. Rhetorical question.
It is no secret that NHL teams tighten up defensively as the season progresses. And Leaf fans have faith that Mike Babcock will sure up the defense before its too late. But time is of the essence. And being ranked in the bottom five in goals against per game is second-rate. Toronto will need to address the 40 goals they have given up, in eleven games so far this season, if they want to consider themselves true contenders.
It Starts In San Jose
The Leafs find themselves in The Capital of the Silicon Valley on Monday night. And Toronto hasn’t fared well in the Shark Tank in recent memory. The last Leaf win ins San Jose came back in 2011. Since 2014, Toronto has been outscored 19-4 in those contests. That’s bad.
But this is a more confident Leaf group. A different group than the past. Dare I say, resilient?
And the Sharks have had their problems so far this season. While San Jose is ranked in the top five in goals against, they have been unable to put the puck in the net. To the tune that they have scored 18 goals less this year, than the league-leading Leafs. One could say their problems are the opposite of Toronto’s.
And let’s not forget the added motivation of Patrick Marleau. It is his return to San Jose, where he played for 19 seasons. This match-up will have a different feel than those of past years where the Sharks walked all over the Leafs beating them in 10 of their last 11 matches.
Then There’s the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings
To say that the Sharks are the only problem that Toronto has had on this trip would be an understatement. Toronto is 3-9 since 2014 in the state of California, having been outscored by a total of 38-19 through those contests.
And the road doesn’t get any easier after San Jose. The Kings are sporting a 9-1-1 record (with their only regulation loss coming to Toronto) while Anaheim has won four of their last five contests against Eastern Conference opposition. Not to mention some guy named Randy Carlyle at the helm, or a guy named Frederik Andersen in the net.
No extra motivation needed.
The young gunning Leafs will have their hands full, as all of these teams are tight checking physical teams. They are bigger than the Leafs. They are more experienced than the Leafs. They are slower than the Leafs, however. And with the rule changes, it might play in Toronto’s favor.
Not only because of the lack of success that they have had in the past. Or that they have lost three of four. Or that the team is searching for a defensive identity to complement its goal-scoring ability.
Toronto is heading what is arguably the toughest stretch of their schedule. They are playing 8 games in 13 days, capped off by a home and home doubleheader against the Bruins on the 10th and 11th. Five of those eight games are on the road.
Toronto has a chance to redeem themselves after a shaky ending to their last homestand. They have a chance to put the league on notice by beating three of the top teams. To come together as a group working towards a common goal: Playing defense.
The Leafs have stacked up well so far this season against the playoff teams from a year ago, going 4-1. It is against non-playoff competition that they have struggled at 3-3. In all likelihood, all three of these teams will be making a push for the playoffs. And those are the teams that Toronto plays best. If the Leafs can come away with points in two or three of these games it would be considered as a success.
Or Toronto could be under .500 by the middle of next week.