As the possibility of a playoff spot grows more remote, still more remains to be understood about the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Saturday’s loss in Detroit left the Leafs seven points behind Buffalo with six games left. The Leafs play the Sabres Tuesday at Air Canada Centre. It’s a date at the last-chance café.
The math is simple and it’s not good.
“Maybe if we can run it out and they win two of their last six, who knows what could happen,” said Clarke MacArthur
But the Sabres have been torrid down the stretch. They are 9-5 this month and winners of their last three games. At full gallop, it will take more than one night with the Leafs to trip them up.
“It sucks to be in this position where you have to depend on other teams but that’s where we are and that’s all right,” said Leafs’ goalie James Reimer
It’s going to have to be, but there is another column that’s worth observing. Right now, the Leafs sit 21st in the league standing, two points out of 19th.
That’s far from a notable achievement but the Leafs finished 29th the season before, then 24 and 24 again. Winning is good. So is finishing as high as possible, in the playoffs or not.
There are statistical milestones in play. Phil Kessel
needs one goal to hit 30. His career high is 36. Mikhaill Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin
have 28. A couple more goals for Tyler Bozak
would bring him 15 or seven more than he managed in limited time last season. Reimer needs three more wins to get to 20 although he is unlikely to play all six games with Jonas Gustavsson
and J.S. Giguere available.
With the playoff distant taillights disappearing over the horizon, the new question becomes how badly do the Leafs want to put a punctuation mark on a season that was two thirds terrible and one third remarkable. There is something to be said for a team that can marshall its resources as its prospects dwindle.
There is no reason to flush away the momentum of breakthrough seasons for Luke Schenn
, Kulemin, MacArthur, Keith Aulie, Carl Gunnarsson
and of course, Reimer.
There will be substantial changes next year as the club intensifies its hunt for bigger, more productive forwards. It is widely expected that with plenty of cap room, the Leafs will seek to sign Dallas centre Brad Richards and with two-first rounders gained in trades around the deadline, the Leafs have some material with which to barter.
The hangover from a team and a public without a playoff game since 2004 might take a while to clear. For the 20 men of the Maple Leafs, it had better not take too long.