In what has become a “thing” in Leafland over the past couple of weeks, the Toronto Maple Leafs are Toronto Maple Leafing once again.
For those who are unaware, the term Toronto Maple Leafing is a general term used by fans of the popular, yet hated, Toronto Maple Leafs in a way to describe their losses. The term Maple Leafing comes from the fact that when the Toronto Maple Leafs lose a game they are typically leading by two or more goals they will tend to choke on that lead and either lose the game or salvage it in overtime/shoot-out.
Following their 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers, Wednesday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs have come back from their extended Christmas vacation 4-2-1.
On the surface that is a positive winning percentage, so why are fans turning on this team again? They currently sit third in the Atlantic division and seventh in the NHL with 51 points through 37 games, in which they also have multiple games in hand over 4 of the 6 teams that sit in front of them in the standings. For many teams that should be a good enough record to keep them out of the ire of the fans eyes for a little bit, but not the Leafs.
Following two very good wins over the Senators and Oilers to ring in 2022, including a 6-0 trouncing over the Sens on New Years Day, the Leafs headed to Colorado to kickoff a 6 game road trip, which will end Saturday night in Long Island.
The Leafs found themselves up 4-1 up over the red hot Avalanche after Nick Ritchie buried his 2nd goal of the year on the Power Play, but that’s where the fun ended that night for the Leafs. 3 straight third period and an Overtime winner from Devon Toews ended a 4 game win streak for the Leafs.
The Leafs next test came the following week when they were set to play Vegas and Arizona on a back to back.
The game against Vegas followed a similar pattern of events as the Leafs took a 3-1 lead into the third period but ended up needing to win in a shootout following goals from William Karlsson and Alex Pietrangelo in the third period. It was in the shootout where only William Nylander found the back of the net giving the Leafs the extra point.
The following night against potentially one of the worst NHL teams in modern history in the Coyotes, the Leafs pumped up nearly 50 shots and still got nothing out of the game as they lost 2-1.
Following that sour loss against Arizona was something they needed to set out and respond in a big way, which the Leafs did on National T.V against the St. Louis Blues.
Following an exciting first period which saw the Leafs jump out to a 3-1 lead, they watched as that lead evaporate in the second, and after rookie defenceman Timothy Liljegren got his first NHL goal midway through the second saw the Leafs regain their lead, Blues goals came at either end of the periods and saw the Blues take their first lead of the game, but late goals from Auston Matthews and Ilya Mikaheyev saw the Leafs finally shut the door on the Blues.
That brings us to Wednesday nights game against the Rangers, where once again the Leafs blew another multi goal lead, but this time there were no late game heroics (there was a disallowed Matthews goal late in the third that might’ve shifted tides) and the Rangers put up five unanswered goals after the Leafs went up 3-1 in the first to win 6-3.
For those who may not have been paying close enough attention, there was a scary pattern across all but one of the Leafs last five games, blown multi goal leads.
Over the past few years there has been some significant improvement in team defense, not in terms of personnel, but in terms of how the team plays in front of the net, but it is quite clear that the team is still ways away from being a defensive juggernaut that many Cup contending teams have.
On Wednesday, it was clearly apparent that their play in front of Campbell was not going to get them through the game, and as a result they allowed 5 unanswered goals, in front of their goalie who has had to really bail out this team on more than a handful of times this season.
Following the loss to the Rangers, head coach Sheldon Keefe called the team “soft” and played “purposeless”, he also went on to say that he “Didn’t think we had anybody that played well tonight. Coaches didn’t coach well tonight. So today is a much different game than we’ve played in the others where we’ve given up leads and such. I just didn’t think we had nearly enough urgency or purpose.”
Lack of urgency and purpose are two things that have shadowed the Leafs organization for countless years now, and as a byproduct blown leads have now become synonymous with them.
This lack of urgency seems to be a mental problem, one that will need to be fine tuned as the games will come at a rapid pace for the final few months of the season.
A stat was put out that found that the Leafs have blown twenty three goal leads since 2007, out of 230 chances, putting them at a 8.7% rate since that time, putting them five more blown opportunities more than the next closest teams.
The numbers back up the claim that when the Leafs lose a game, they lose in spectacular fashion.
Their next test comes Saturday against a floundering New York Islanders team, who have given the Leafs some trouble in the past, following the free agency signing of their former captain John Tavares in 2018. The Leafs have blanked the Islanders 3-0 in their last two meetings, including a game at the end of November, which was the Islanders first game in their new UBS Arena.
Saturday’s game against the lowly Islanders could potentially be the spark plug that the Leafs need to get out of their funk, it could also spell a recipe for more disaster if they continue down prior trends once again.