The Maple Leafs are Finally Winning Hockey Games Again

When Mike Babcock joined the Leafs in the summer of 2015, he famously warned the fans of the pain to come. After four years (and three consecutive 1st round playoff exits) had passed, it became clear that the pain he spoke of was to be entirely self-inflicted. Babcock, with all the hubris which can often accompany the professional successes he had previously enjoyed, was a man with a plan. The only problem was that Babcock’s plan was not well-suited for Kyle Dubas’ roster. Babcock did everything in his power to beat the fun out of the young and talented Maple Leafs, although it never translated into any sort of success (or defence, for that matter). After reaching regular season heights, the club clearly had plateaued. So when Sheldon Keefe assumed the role of head coach in November, everybody knew that things would be different. But I don’t think any of us were prepared for this.

In the 17 games since Keefe took over, the Leafs have vaulted into second place in the Atlantic Division with a 12-4-1 record, featuring a now broken 6 game win streak. The team has been tops in all special teams, and been scoring their way out of problems created by their atrocious defence. This is all fine and dandy in the regular season against the Detroit Red Wings and New Jersey Devils of the world, but how will giving up nearly 4 goals per game against the Boston Bruins or Washington Capitals ever translate into postseason success? Its unrealistic to think that the Maple Leafs will make much of a bang come Spring without addressing their Achilles’ heel: their blue line. The high scoring squad is giving up 3.27 goals per game over their last 15 against some fairly weak competition. If you remove their shutout of the AHL calibre Red Wings, that number balloons up to 3.5. No team in the post-expansion era of the NHL has ever won a Stanley Cup surrendering 3.5 goals per night on average (I’m not really sure if that is true, but I don’t think any of you have the audacity to fact check it).

THIS AND THAT

Somebody needs to tell Tyson Barrie that when defending a 2-on-1 he needs to take away the pass and let the goalie take the shooter. That somebody who should have told him? His Novice hockey coach. Auston Matthews scored his 25th and 26th goals on Saturday night, leaving him two behind Boston’s David Pastrnak for the league lead. If you told me at the beginning of the year I could have Matthews in a race vs Pasta, but I had to spot Pasta a two goal headstart, I take that bet. The last Maple Leaf to win the Rocket Richard? Rocket Richard. That would have been a good guess, but it was actually Gaye Stewart, who led the league with 37 tallies in 1945-46 . With a little bit of luck, Auston Matthews could have easily had that by the All-Star break. The most impressive part about Stewart’s feat was that he had just returned home from overseas. The Fort William, Ontario native had spent the previous season not arguing a contract, but bravely fighting against the Nazis.

HEAR AND THERE

Someone close to the Leafs told me that their practice goalie enjoys honey sandwiches. Hopefully with all the Boxing Day sales this week, goaltender David Ayres will probably be stocking up on the good stuff…A certain reporter at TSN will be shocked that he actually has a name and not always referred to as “guy” in the hockey world. Be better. William Nylander showed more than just glimpses of why Kyle Dubas had so much faith in him last Fall. He downright dominated the game against New Jersey when the rest of his team appeared to have a Justin Beiber hangover. When asked about the slick, no-look pass he received from the Calgarian heartthrob, Leafs Captain John Tavares simply said: “You wouldn’t know it with all that goddamn blonde hair, but the kid actually has eyes in the back of his head”. Nylander got credit for the game winning goal versus the Devils. The only problem was, he didn’t shoot the puck. Devils’ defenceman Damon Severson buried the loose rubber into his own goal during overtime, and Willy got credit. After driving the net moments beforehand, Nylander certainly was the most responsible for the goal (at least as far as the Leafs players go). Overtime goals that won the Leafs a hockey game: Damon Severson 1 , Andreas Johnsson 0.

SCENE AND HEARD

Funny stat the Leafs are leading in: they are currently a perfect 12-for-12 in stick replacements on the fly in under 1 second hand-offs. The next closest perfect team? The Tampa Bay Lightning at 5-for-5. When asked about how his bench is so efficient in passing twigs to those in need, Sheldon Keefe said it best: “We already got the brutal refs ghosting us on every opportunity they get. Did you see that bullshit penalty on Hyman? Embellishment? Really? The guy is a kid’s author for Christ’s sake! Hyman probably overpays his taxes! The NHL is a joke. So the least we can do is get our kids a new stick in a timely fashion”.

AND ANOTHER THING

When newly inked Blue Jays pitcher Hyin Jin Ryu chose number 99, it drew the ire of many “old men yelling at clouds” on social media. Strangely enough, they did not seem to take issue when Aaron Judge did it…Interesting reports out of Korea surfaced when the prized free agent surprisingly signed in Toronto. Korea’s message to Toronto: we no longer hate you. I don’t think a single Torontonian was aware that Korea hated us, but we are all glad you don’t anymore! Shapiro and Atkins, after years of striking out, finally hit a home run. Happy birthday to Richie Sexson (44), Eric Berry (30), Sean Payton (55), and Theo Epstein (45). And hey, what ever happened to Junior Spivey?

Steve Simmons will be back next week. Thanks for reading!

Nicky Pizazz
@nickypizazz

Tags: , ,

Related Article

0 Comments

Leave a Comment