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So it’s come to this:
“The good fortune we had at the beginning of the year now seems to be piling up against us.”
– Randy Carlyle, following a 3-2 loss to New Jersey, March 23, 2014
The Leafs have been going very conspicuously off the rails for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have lost five straight in regulation and have won only two wins in the first 60 minutes of a game since Feb. 27. Which is a long way of saying, “The Leafs have 10 points from their last 13 games, and are now at the point in the action movie where the hero is holding onto the very edge of a helicopter’s skids with one hand, while the laughing villain stomps gleefully on his fingers.
Except in this particular movie, it seems the good guy isn’t going to reach up with that free hand and grab onto the baddie’s ankle, and hurl him screaming to his death. It seems instead that the wind is picking up and heel is grinding ruthlessly into crushed finger bone. All that remains is for the inevitability of gravity to take effect, and leave this team with playoff pretensions a red pulpy mess on the ground.
As of this writing, they have 80 points from 73 games and technically hold the East’s eighth and final playoff spot. At the rate they’ve been going, though, it’s unlikely that they’re going to take the 12 or so points needed to ensure a playoff position from their final nine games. Not when those games include dates against St. Louis, Philadelphia, Detroit, Boston, and Tampa, all of which are better than the Leafs by a pretty decent margin.
That the chickens have come home to roost for the Leafs, who lived on being outshot but counting on their goaltenders — and their goaltenders alone — to bail them out night after night, is not really a surprise. They’ve repeatedly denied that being outshot has any negative effect on their game, because after all they played like 100 straight of playoff-making hockey under Randy Carlyle, and every loss no matter how bad during that time has been explained away in easy fashion: blame injuries, blame a sudden lack of leadership, blame James Reimer being a huge piece of crap who sucks. Repeat.
That the Leafs are now bemoaning their lack of luck is in no way surprising but neither is the fact that the lack of luck exists. For the most part, you’re only going to get a finite amount of luck over the course of 100-plus hockey games, and while wins count just as much in, say, January 2013 as they do now, the fact of the matter is that the Leafs burned through their good bounces just to get to the point of being a borderline playoff team this season.
Carlyle’s “good fortune” provided the cover to even have them in the conversation for the postseason, and without the goaltending that has buoyed them far beyond where it logically should have, the Leafs look like what they are in actual practice, one of the 10-worst teams in the National Hockey League. There’s no mystery to it, and if you were paying any kind of attention at all you saw all this coming a long ways off. Carlyle and the Leafs brass, though, weren’t paying attention. So they’re trying to run James Reimer out of town rather than fix the problem they’ve faced for the last 15 months, which they think don’t exist.
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