Examining the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Second-Half Schedule
By Lukas Hardonk (@LukasHardonk)
Although the official halfway point of the NHL’s regular season generally passes by in early January, the All-Star break is often seen as the mid-season turn. It’s a time when each and every team recharges in order to make a strong second-half surge, whether it be towards the post-season or the top of the league standings.
In the case of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the chances of qualifying for the playoffs actually appear to be pretty good, at least compared to seasons past. Many would argue that there are currently four spots available for five teams to battle for with the Leafs currently occupying one of those four spots.
As everyone knows though, the amount of positions available don’t always tell the entire story. That is exactly the situation with the Maple Leafs, who still have 32 games remaining this season.
One of the best ways to analyze a team’s chances at anything is by taking a look at who they will have to go up against in the future. Now one game into the unofficial second-half, it’s the perfect time to do exactly that.
Games versus Northeast Division teams remaining: 10
The Leafs will go up against division rivals ten more times this season, with two games coming against the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins, and three against the Montreal Canadiens and the Buffalo Sabres.
Senators: The Senators have gone 27-20-6 this season and 3-1-0 against the Maple Leafs. The Leafs’ poor record against their provincial rivals this season certainly has fans worried, and rightfully so. However, Ottawa has dropped four straight and is no longer one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.
Canadiens: The Canadiens have been shockingly bad this season. While nobody expected them to be a top-level team, it was projected that they would finish somewhere around eighth. The Leafs have had their share of success against Montreal, winning two of three meetings this season.
Bruins: It’s no secret how much the Leafs have struggled against Boston this season. In four games, they have not won once and have been outscored 23-6. The good news for Toronto though, is that the Bruins are not a team that the Leafs are battling for eighth in the conference.
Sabres: Buffalo isn’t a team that Toronto has to worry about all too much. Sitting 14th in the Eastern Conference, the Sabres are well out of eighth. With that being said, a 2-2-0 record isn’t too bad considering that the Sabres don’t count as a “must beat” team at this point in the season.
Overall, the Leafs have gone 5-10-0 against the Northeast Division. Needless to say, the Buds are lucky that only one of the four teams mentioned above (Ottawa) is close to them in the standings.
Games versus playoff teams remaining: 19
As of pre-game action on February 1, the Maple Leafs had 19 games left to play against teams that currently sit in the playoffs. Among those teams are the regulars; Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Boston and the Rangers, as well as teams that sit in the same boat as the Leafs.
These may just be some of the most important games for the Leafs, as points against the league’s best are often very hard to come by. A perfect example of this came on Tuesday night, when the Maple Leafs blew a 4-1 lead in the third period to lose to the Penguins 5-4 in a shootout.
If the Maple Leafs can snag roughly 28 of the 38 points available from these 19 games, granted the number of games and points available is bound to fluctuate over the next few months, they should be in a relatively good position. That is, of course, unless they manage to struggle mightily against non-playoff teams.
Road games remaining: 17 / home games remaining: 15
There is no doubt that the Maple Leafs have been a better team at home than on the road this season. With a point percentage of .571 at the Air Canada Centre, the Leafs certainly can’t be happy that they will play two more games on the road─where they own a point percentage of .500─than at home.
You may say that two games isn’t that big of a deal, which is true in a way. However, two games equals four points in the NHL, which can mean all the difference at the end of the season. Want proof? Just look back to the 2006-2007 season when the Leafs fell just one point out of making the playoffs.
Things could be worse, though. After a January schedule that was jam-packed with home games, the Leafs are probably lucky that two isn’t four or five.
To the Leafs’ benefit, though, are a couple of four-game home stands in late February and late March. The latter of the two is a streak in which the Leafs will play four of five games at the Air Canada Centre, with three of them coming against teams that currently sit well outside of eighth.
Inter-conference games remaining: 5
Perhaps where the Maple Leafs don’t get so lucky is games against the opposite conference. They will play five of their 14 games this month─roughly 36 percent─against the Western Conference, with four of those games coming on the road.
Starting on Monday, the Leafs will begin a back-to-back beginning with the Edmonton Oilers before rolling out to Winnipeg for a meeting with the Jets on Tuesday. After that, the Leafs will face the Flyers and the Canadiens before three straight on the road versus Western Conference opponents; Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.
Even though the Leafs’ schedule is about to become as west-heavy as they get, they can take pride in knowing that they have gone 7-2-3 against Western Conference teams this season. That works out to a point percentage of .708, which is more than impressive.
Total games remaining: 32
All in all, the Leafs appear to have what is a relatively balanced schedule for the remainder of the season. This obviously works in their favour, especially considering that the Devils have the third toughest schedule to deal with.
While all of this playoff talk is reason enough for Leaf fans to get excited, everyone must remember that there is still plenty of hockey to be played, and that anything can happen.
Follow Lukas on Twitter @LukasHardonk for more Maple Leafs coverage.