Spare me another “COMEBACK KIDS” headline.
First of all, it’s dreadfully clichéd sports jargon. Secondly, it takes the emphasis off the other side of the equation — falling into a hole.
Which is what the Maple Leafs did on Saturday against the woebegone Canucks, a game they managed to knot late-ish in the third and win in a second consecutive shootout, Tyler Bozak the back-to-back hero. Bozak, who’d attracted no shortage of grumps over the first half of the 2017-18 campaign, is now 17-for-43 with the puck on his stick after overtime. He also accounted for that 2-2 marker, corralling his own rebound.
Some players just have a calm knack for that shootout pressure situation.
But all the analytics folderol suggested Toronto should not have found itself clawing back to avert a regulation loss to Vancouver, which arrived in town amidst a 2-9-1 tailspin, wracked by injuries, benighted by atrocious goaltending and saved from the Western Conference basement only by the grace of godawful Arizona.
Bit of a worrisome trend there, how the Leafs have left more than a fistful of points on the table when facing also-ran opposition, from Colorado a week earlier, to the likes of Detroit and Minnesota before that, Vancouver and Arizona in the weeks previous.
Yes, there is parity in the National Hockey League and any team can win on any night. Unexpected lights-out goaltending has a lot to do with it, except Freddie Andersen has been a consistent ace in the hole for Toronto, allowing two goals or less in 15 of his last 21 starts. So there’s no explanation for why the Leafs often come up flat against teams they should be feasting on, especially if they want to be taken seriously as contenders.
It’s kind of a weird thing that the Leafs are hardly any further ahead in the standings than they were at this juncture a year ago because the sense has been that they’re a much improved lot as all those glittery rookies, circa 2016-17, have experience miles on them now. Auston Matthews, as an example, is averaging more points per game than he did in his Calder Trophy-winning season and has struck for six goals in his past seven games since returning from his second injury absence.Read more...