Two days ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs were scraping the bottom of the barrel. They dropped their 11th straight, losing to the New Jersey Devils by a final of 4-1. That loss broke a franchise record dating back to 1967, sort of (more on this later). Amazingly enough, 1967 also marked the last time the Leafs won the Stanley Cup.
That’s not likely to happen this season, even with Saturday’s thrilling news that the Maple Leafs finally cracked the losing streak with a win over the hapless Edmonton Oilers. The 5-1 victory at the Air Canada Centre featured many scintillating moments, including a stellar goal from Morgan Rielly and a solid performance in goal by James Reimer.
Toronto’s last win was way back on January 9 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“It feels really good, that feeling at the end of the game when you have battled for 60 minutes and you’re able to come out with a win, especially after the adversity we have faced, it’s a good feeling,” Reimer said on Saturday. “It’s a relief, and you feel really good about yourself. I thought right from the get-go we came out to play.”
Coming out to play hasn’t exactly been the Leafs’ strong suit this season. At times, they’ve been an unmitigated disaster on the ice.
If there was ever a team to play the role of giving Toronto a break, it was the Oilers. Their 14-30-9 record is highlighted by a dismal 5-14-7 road record. And guess what? Their next five games are road games.
What Saturday night’s game showed was the sorry state of two Canadian teams, even if one looked a lot less sorry than the other. The Maple Leafs are by no means out of the woods. When they dropped their 11th in a row on Friday, it was also their 19th loss in 22 games.
Now technically, Toronto managed a point against New Jersey late last month when they suffered a shootout loss. That point makes the 11-game losing streak a “winless” streak, but who are we kidding? A loss is a loss, even if the NHL’s dumb extra frame rules decide to award charity points.
For the Leafs, it’s not a lack of scoring that’s been shutting them down. They’re actually 11th in the NHL in goals for. They’re even in the top half of the NHL on the power play. Defensively, however, things fall apart. Regularly. The Maple Leafs are 26th in goals against (only the Stars, Coyotes, Oilers, and Sabres are worse).
Despite having an effective penalty kill and coming up with six shorthanded goals, Toronto still suffers when it comes to closing the gaps. They’ve had eight shorties scored against them, a dismal stat they share with only the hapless Buffalo Sabres.
Consider, too, that they only have five players with a plus-rating.
The problem is clear. While players like Phil Kessel and James Van Riemsdyk have been pulling their offensive weight, trouble at the other end of the ice is forcing the Maple Leafs to give up an awful lot. Without tighter defence and better goaltending, they’ll keep repeating these obscene losing streaks.
So as nice as it is to pick apart the Edmonton Oilers and watch Morgan Rielly dance his way around a team that is arguably even more defensively irresponsible than his own, this isn’t over. Not by a long shot. Toronto has a clear idea of what’s going wrong. Now they just have to fix it for good.