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Finding Their Comfort Level

by David Alter / Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs have managed to win games by a substantial margin through 24 games this season. The goal differential of those games has been wide spread, averaging a goal differential of 2.54 between opponents.

The high scoring has been big factor. Following the their 5-3 win against the Dallas Stars, Toronto have moved into second in the league in average goals per game 3.38, surpassing the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But the high scoring differential appears to not be all that new for Toronto. At least, not through this point of the season.

Below are the last couple of 82 games seasons, compared to this year.

Season 1st 24G Avg. Outcome GD 1st 24 Games. Record Last 24G Avg. Outcome GD Last 24 Games Record
2011-12 2.42 14-8-2 3.00 6-14-4
2013-14 2.33 14-9-1 2.00 8-14-2
2014-15 2.54 13-8-3 ? ?


The last 24 games of a season become increasingly difficult to play in and there are all kinds of theories as to why that is the case.

“At that point in the year, everyone’s playing for something,” said James van Riemsdyk. “Most teams are in the playoff hunt, that’s the key. But even with teams that are technically out of it, there are still guys playing for contracts. That’s why I find it so much harder to win and harder to do things in March and April than it is early in the year.”

The last 24 games become a crucial part to championship calibre teams. In the post-lockout era (2005) no team has had a losing record down the stretch while managing to win it all.

“I think that teams that win the cup usually get hot before the playoffs” said defenceman Stephane Robidas. “They have their game together, they don’t look back and they keep going.”

When you look back at the cup winning teams, the teams that have played well down the stretch are the ones that battle through adversity and ultimately win hockey’s greatest prize.

Year Cup Winning Team Final 24 Games
2014 Los Angeles Kings 16-6-2
2013 Chicago Blackhawks 15-7-2
2012 Los Angeles Kings 15-5-4
2011 Boston Bruins 14-6-4
2010 Chicago Blackhawks 14-7-3
2009 Pittsburgh Penguins 18-3-3
2008 Detroit Red Wings 13-9-2
2007 Anaheim Ducks 14-4-6
2006 Carolina Hurricanes 12-8-4

Since 2010, every cup winning team has won at least 14 of their final 24 games. No team has shown a losing record in this category or has come anywhere close.

While the offence has been a good thing for the Leafs, the defensive issues remain front of mind with good reason.

“In the playoffs, that’s what’s going to happen. You’re not going to win games like 6-2, it might happen once in a while but you have to be comfortable playing a good tight checking game,” Robidas adds.

A tight-checking game results in the opposition not getting the type of opportunities we saw from the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night. The good news, at least how Robidas sees it, is correctable. Whereas the ability to score comes from talent.

“I find with our team is there is a lot of skill. We can score goals. If we limit the other team’s chances, we have a chance to win every night because we know we can score goals. It’s tougher for a team that can’t score because some teams can’t score. That makes it harder because now you really have to bear down defensively, you’re night might be over because you don’t know if you’re going to be able to get two.”

Games 25 to 58 will be about trying to limit the opposition’s space and getting tighter on the puck. Once they reach game number 59, the Leafs will have to have discovered that comfort level and play their best hockey.

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Notes.

Daniel Winnik blocked a shot and was feeling the effects of a hit delivered by Stars defenceman Jason Demers. Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle didn’t believe it was serious. Leo Komarov was held off the ice as he continues to go through protocol for head shots. It’s unlikely Komarov will suit up against the Devils on Thursday but Saturday is a possibility.

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