Eight games. That’s all that’s left in the 2016-17 Toronto Maple Leafs season. Wild, isn’t it?
The Leafs will play the Red Wings this coming weekend, and then it’s the end of the schedule the following Sunday. Just under two weeks of games left, and then for better or worse, the “season” is over. The post-season begins.
I probably don’t have to remind you that Toronto will control its own destiny from here on out, as they sit in a playoff spot with none of the teams behind in pursuit holding anything over them in terms of games in hand. The Leafs just need to stay on pace with two of the Islanders, Lightning, or Bruins and they’re home free. So in these last eight games, what exactly does this team have in front of them? Is it a particularly hard road? Let’s take a look.
Yes, four of the Leafs’ remaining eight contests will be as part of back-to-backs, both in the final week of the season. The first will occur on Monday-Tuesday in games against the Sabres (in Buffalo) and Washington (back in Toronto). With the way the Leafs were pumped in Buffalo a couple nights ago, this seems daunting, no?
Well, if there’s anything to take some solace in, the Sabres will be on the second half of their own back-to-back when they play the Leafs, who will be a rested club. In fact, Buffalo will host the Islanders the night before. That could be a massive 24-hours in terms of Toronto securing a postseason berth. Unfortunately, the following evening the Leafs will be on the the flipside of that, entering as the tired team against a rested (1+days) Washington team at the ACC.
The final back-to-back will be on closing weekend, the last two games of the season. Toronto will have two difficult challenges in front of them in the form of Metro division contenders, the Penguins on Saturday and Jackets on Sunday. Both games will be at the ACC. The Leafs won’t be at a schedule advantage or disadvantage in these games, as both them and the Penguins will come in rested, then the Jackets visit as a team that’s also tired.
The only other imbalance the Leafs will find themselves in is a schedule advantage over the Panthers tonight. Florida will visit Toronto as the tired team after going up against the Sabres yesterday, and they’ll be playing a Leafs team on two full days of rest.
As things stand today, the only team with more home dates in their remaining schedule than the Leafs are the Bruins, who will play six of their remaining seven in Boston. Toronto will be at the ACC for five of their remaining eight, which includes a four game home stand to end out the season. Of course, we know home ice does provide an advantage, but that doesn’t always shake out in the results. Fortunately for the Leafs, they’ve only lost ten games in regulation at Air Canada Centre so far through 36 contests.
It’ll be a tough slog late next week when they host the Caps, Lightning, Penguins, and Jackets to close things out, but hopefully being in their own building helps tighten things up against some difficult opponents. Of course it’s also worth noting that the Leafs are 6th in the league in terms of score-adjusted Corsi at home, while ranked 19th on the road (via Corsica.Hockey).
The Good, the Bad, the Mathematically Eliminated
In terms of facing playoff teams vs. non-playoff teams, Toronto has an even split. They’ll face four teams that are currently sitting outside the postseason picture, including three that are totally out of it – Florida, Detroit, and Buffalo. Tampa is still sticking around on the bubble. Of the four playoff teams they’ll face, three are locked in with spots mathematically clinched – a Metro trio of Columbus, Pittsburgh and Washington. Nashville, who they play two days from now, currently sits third in the Central, and are essentially a lock now as well.
Here’s how things look for Toronto and the teams they’re trying to stay clear of:
|Games Remaining||Opp. in Playoff spot||Opp. Non-Playoff|
Lastly, let’s quickly point out that the Leafs only really have one game remaining where they’ll have the opportunity to knock down a team in pursuit of them. Nothing left on the schedule against Boston, the Islanders, or even the Sens (who they can realistically still catch for 2nd). It’s just that game next Thursday against the Lightning, and with Tampa closing the gap to just two points last night (with an additional game played), it’s likely going to be a very important one. I guess at this point, they all are.