It's Not Over Yet
The Leafs have been a very unlucky team of late. After firing Randy Carlyle in hope of igniting the players to perform better, they have since had trouble scoring. Under the realm of Peter Horachek, the Leafs currently boast a 1-5-0 record and have now had difficulty scoring goals. That was highlighted on the recent road trip through death valley where the Leafs managed to score just once.
While many fans have begun to lose hope in this season as of January 19, I am one of the few who still have faith. But I have a reason for this. It's not because the Leafs have been playing better defensively and will eventually score goals or that slumps can only last for so long.
The reason is that the slump is happening at a time where the Leafs have enough games left to make up for it.
Time? But they have always been like this year after year. There is no
Think about this, since the 2012 season, the Leafs have performed poorly when it came to the most important months of the season. In the 18-wheeler season, they were holding down a playoff spot until a long slump that lasted through February and March turned a promising season into drafting Morgan Rielly 5th overall. Over those stretch of games between February 6 and March 13, the Leafs were a dismal record of 3-12-2. In the previous season, the Leafs headed into the Olympic break on a high but fell off the playoff race and ended up selecting William Nylander 8th overall. From February 27th to the end of the season on April 12, the Leafs slumped their way to a record of 6-14-2. And in the 2013 playoffs, the Leafs had a 4-1 lead midway through the third period turned into a heart wrenching 5-4 loss in overtime of Game 7.
See any patterns developing here? When it matters the most, the Leafs simply cannot stay afloat and end up struggling. All of this at the expense of either a playoff spot or a ticket to the second round.
As of right now, the Leafs have a record of 4-13-0 from December 16 until Saturdays game. Yes, that record is just as bad as the other records mentioned. But the difference between them is that this one is occurring in the middle of the season, not when its down to the wire. Simply put, while their playoff chances are currently falling, the Leafs still have enough time to make up the gap and get back to the playoffs. And with the All Star Break coming up this weekend, the Leafs chance at redemption begins now.
Still don't believe you. I need proof.
One season where this was true was the 2010-11 season. They were a team that just came off their worst showing in the standings giving Boston the right to select Tyler Seguin at 2nd overall. Those Leafs, like this years addition, went through a rough patch midway though that nearly derailed their season right then and there. But, James Reimer, who is still waiting for his chance to start more games right now, was called up in desperation to salvage the season. Suddenly, the Leafs became one of the hottest teams in the league down the stretch and nearly got to the promised land. Although they did not make it, they bounded together and did their best to make it right with enough time left.
Then what are you saying?
What I am trying to say is, the Leafs nearly did it once before and they can do it again.
OK wise guy, what do you think is the real problem this season?
With this slump that has dragged on for far too long, many fans have come up with reasons for this and it has made me, in all honesty, laugh. Some are suggesting that it is all Phaneuf's fault entirely, while others blame the new coach. Some continue to criticize Kessel's work ethic or Gardiner turning the puck over again for the 5000th time. And some have even pointed to Dave Nonis, and by extension Brian Burke, for assembling the roster that is rotting up the NHL.
While some problems I have read I agree with (Clarkson on the powerplay, lack of offense, and bad luck), I find the main source of all the Leafs current struggles and through the last 4 years come down to one word: hesitation.
THE LEAFS ARE WAY TOO NERVOUS TO MAKE A PLAY ALMOST EVERY SINGLE NIGHT!
Think about it. How many times throughout Carlyle's tenure and the current season have the Leafs seemed a bit unsure of what kind of play they want to execute? To say that it happened in all of the games may be an understatement, but that's the truth. On simple plays skating out of their own zone, the Leafs have either taken a long time to decide on what to do with the puck or made an immediate decision hoping for the best. In both scenarios, this has mostly led to a turnover and a scoring chance against, and has rarely worked in the Leafs favour.
This can help explain why Gardiner continues to frustrate fans by turning over the puck, or why Franson had struggles at times making a play. It could also explain why the power play has been a passing play in hopes of a golden opportunity throughout the years, or when the Leafs try and cover their man in the defensive zone. It could also explain why the penalty kill, excluding this season and the lockout, has been consistently near the bottom of the standings.
Simply put, the Leafs hesitate too much and often become their own worst enemy.
Need proof? Watch the highlights of Carlyle's last game as coach and Horachek's first game as coach.
I could ramble on about this, but the simple fact is that the Leafs cannot be afraid to make a play or else it will once again lead to another lost season. If there is anything the Leafs can take from Cup favourite teams like the Hawks, the Kings, the Pens, and (yes) the Habs, it is that whenever they make a play, they do so with confidence and do not mind making it. Even if the play doesn't lead to a quality chance, they are able to do this because the players on each team have faith in each other.
It's quite obvious that the Leafs don't truly trust each other on the ice, and this leads to the hesitation, which then leads to the turnover, and so on.
Trust and confidence will go a long way with the squad if they begin to implement it as soon as possible.
So are you telling me I have to cancel my McDavid jersey order?
Are you crazy? Why did you even purchase the jersey in the first place?
The season has not yet been lost and their is still enough time for the Leafs to salvage the year past April. We could easily throw in the towel and say "That's it, time to tank!" But that is would mean losing all hope in the month of January.
Instead, we should be revealed that this struggle is not happening in February and/or March rather than constantly dwell on this one. Thinking about the losses will make it harder to appreciate the change in direction that will one day lead to better times.
Let's get one thing straight, every team, no matter how good they are will struggle at one point or another. If there is one thing consistent in every single one is that eventually the slump ends and team eventually gets back on track. Let me mention one more example, how many times in the past few seasons have the Washington Capitals gone through a really bad slump only to make the playoffs in the end? Pretty much all of them.
If one team can do it, so too can the Leafs.
But still, the Leafs are really bad. What do they do about that?
*sigh* I'm done with you.