The bar is high for the Toronto Maple Leafs and nothing less than hockey’s ultimate prize will do this season. But the team is also in “good shape” and that’s part of the problem. This little platitude was made all the more apparent after they dropped a 6-3 decision to the Colorado Avalanche Monday.
“We’ve only got ourselves to blame,” head coach Mike Babcock said after the game. “Myself as the head coach, I’m responsible. We didn’t play well enough, we didn’t play hard enough, and the players are the same way. We weren’t good enough.”
Toronto is 28-15-2, good for second in the Atlantic Division but a full 14 points behind the leading Tampa Bay Lightning. That in and of itself is almost pointless, as nobody is really even close to the Lightning. Even the mighty Flames are eight points back.
The Maple Leafs are 5-5-0 in their last 10 games. They’ve dropped five of six at home. They were shut out in two of those five losses and were outscored 21-13 across the aggregate. In the other three non-shutout losses, Toronto had a lead and wasted it. Also, they haven’t defeated a playoff team at home since the month of November.
Much is expected out of the Maple Leafs this season, especially with the roster they have. They’ve successfully steered most of the off-ice drama and William Nylander is in the fold with a spicy contract, so what’s going on?
Something was exposed in the loss to the Avalanche, that’s for sure. For one, Colorado hasn’t been very good. They’d dropped nine of their last 10 games going into Monday’s contest and were supposed to be ripe pickings for an easy win.
The fans at the Scotiabank Arena weren’t having it and they especially let Jake Gardiner know. The defenceman, likely running out the clock on his tenure in T-Dot, wasn’t treated too kindly by the home crowd. And that may not be the best way to grease the wheels to a better home record, but that’s life under the microscope.
Even the return of Frederik Andersen didn’t do the trick, but Toronto is still in good shape. And satisfaction is in the bloodstream given the Maple Leafs’ hold on a post-season slot, which is almost entirely assured right now as they float over the Habs and loiter way behind the Lightning.
In other words, nothing much is going to change – even 37 games out. Many people are already paving the road to Boston.
The bar is high and Toronto seems all but ready to skate into the playoffs with an incredibly talented roster. Is that part of the problem? Is that lack of drive hitting Nylander to the point that he can only produce one goal in 16 games or Patrick Marleau to no goals in nine games or Nazem Kadri to one in his past 18?
Contentment is a bear in sports and the Maple Leafs are showing the danger of too much comfort. If it seems an odd problem to have, it is. And while it may be a little manic to haul out the boo birds on Gardiner, it’s also not arbitrary. If anything, the home town fans need to cast a wider net and let the whole team hear the music before it’s too late.