The latest Toronto Maple Leafs road trip across western Canada can’t be considered anything but a success in the eyes of head coach Mike Babcock. Toronto managed five out of six points against three Canadian teams, but there is still a lot of room for improvement as the Maple Leafs hurl towards the playoffs.
Toronto Maple Leafs Road Trip Was Good But Could Have Been Better
First Stop: Calgary
The Maple Leafs dominated the Calgary Flames on the scoreboard in their first game. The game could have gone one of many ways though. Frederik Andersen continued to show why he should be in the Vezina Trophy conversation while on the other side, Flames’ goaltender David Rittich continued to show the Flames’ weakness is in between the pipes.
Calgary is one of the best teams in the Western Conference. While the score may have been flipped if the goaltenders were flipped, it was still a strong performance by the Maple Leafs. Mitch Marner was up to his old tricks and the Maple Leafs’ new-look fourth-line was stellar. Kyle Dubas‘ plan to fill the roster with speed and skill paid off handsomely against Calgary with Tyler Ennis scoring a hat trick and rookie Trevor Moore picking up two assists.
Strong goaltending and relentless talent up and down the lineup is exactly how this team will give themselves a chance to win when it counts.
Next Stop: Vancouver
The Maple Leafs took a two-goal lead into the third period against the Vancouver Canucks. At that point, they were 32-0 when taking a lead into the third period. A sharp contrast to a couple of years ago when the main Toronto storyline was that they couldn’t hold a lead. Then Dan Murphy jinxed them in an interview with Ron Hainsey during intermission.
Toronto did manage to hold on to overtime. Again Andersen was a key performer. The game was a midweek game in early March on the other side of the country. A momentary lapse here doesn’t indicate a great deal. Losing zero games while taking a lead into the third for an entire season is difficult.
As long as it’s not the start of a habit.
Last Stop: Edmonton
The last stop was a Saturday night game against the Edmonton Oilers. The Maple Leafs took another lead into the third period. They dominated at five-on-five play, kept Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl under control, and Andersen was once again on top of his game.
Then, the final two minutes of play happened, and Edmonton scored two to close the gap to one. Thankfully, for the Maple Leafs, Edmonton ran out of time and Toronto prevailed. It should, however, be considered a shot across the bow for the Maple Leafs. Teams aren’t going to let up, they shouldn’t either, and that goes double in the playoffs.
I’ve beaten this dead horse a number of times, but the Maple Leafs’ offensive depth is their main strength. They won two of three against Western Canadian teams with their best player, Auston Matthews, accumulating exactly zero points in the process. That says a couple of things. This team is really deep, and where is Auston Matthews?
He’s getting shots, 13 in those three games, although few of them were high danger chances. It’s not the time to panic, even if it’s Toronto, but it will be an interesting story to watch.
Matthews’ expected playoff linemate, William Nylander, didn’t fare much better on this road trip. He only collected one assist in the three games. When these two start turning the red light on… and there were indications against Edmonton that’s coming, few teams will relish meeting them in the playoffs.
The Race For Home Ice
You might think that taking five of six points will advance you upwards in the standings. Not so for the Maple Leafs. They actually lost ground to the Boston Bruins for home-ice advantage. The Bruins are on an incredible 19 games straight with at least one point. Tough to catch up on a team that never loses. The good news for Maple Leafs’ fans is that the Bruins are clearly peaking too early and will be ripe for the picking by mid-April.
While the Maple Leafs may be in tough to wrestle home-ice advantage away from Boston, they are solidifying a third-place Atlantic Division finish. While some might prefer the Maple Leafs fall to a Wild Card, it’s not very realistic. The Maple Leafs are now ten points up on the fourth-place Montreal Canadiens.
At this point, another first-round matchup against the Bruins is unavoidable. The difference this year, however, will be John Tavares.
While Matthews and Nylander may not have been producing much on this road trip, Tavares was. He had five points in the three games, including three against Edmonton. The Maple Leafs’ annual road trip across Canada has been a sticky note on calendars in Leafs Nation for years. As a Maple Leafs’ fan stuck in NHL Limbo for years, participating on a cross Canada road trip as a Maple Leaf must have been another dream come true for Tavares.
“Should be a lot of fun going out west,” John Tavares said. That’s as unstoic as it gets for Tavares.
Fans Fans Fans
Speaking of how much better things must be for Tavares these days, Maple Leafs’ fans attended these three games against Calgary, Vancouver, and Edmonton in droves. Often times they were louder than the home fans with chants of ‘Go Leafs Go’ echoing through the buildings. That must be a boost for the road team in these situations, making these games all the more fun for the players.
It Gets Harder From Here
Despite being back home, it’s not going to get easier for the Maple Leafs. While the team did well against a group of Canadian teams in various places in the standings, next up is the Tampa Bay Lightning. Monday night’s game against them will be a more telling sign of where this team is at the moment. It would be an ideal game for Matthews and Nylander to start putting pucks in the net too, but if they don’t, there’s always Tavares, Marner, and even Tyler Ennis.