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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) during a 2020 NHL regular season game against the Los Angeles Kings. (Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire)
February 18th, 2021
No one will deny the Toronto Maple Leafs have a talented hockey team, one of the best in the league right now. However, is this incarnation of the Leafs good enough to end the franchise's lengthy Stanley Cup drought?
That’s the million-dollar question.
The Maple Leafs have reached 40 or more wins in three of the last four seasons, and likely would have hit that mark a year ago before the COVID-19 pandemic halted play for several months.
When the season did re-start with a new playoff format, the Maple Leafs once again disappointed, losing in the qualifying round.
The Leafs would clearly love to change their fortunes in 2021, though that's easier said than done.
The Maple Leafs currently have the fifth best odds to win the Stanley Cup at +1000 on TwinSpires Sports – the best odds of any of the Canadian teams.
They also have the best odds of any Canadian team to make the Stanley Cup Final.
A Canadian team hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1993, and the last time the Maple Leafs hoisted Lord Stanley’s mug was in 1967.
Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada brought on by the pandemic, the NHL was forced to reconfigure its format for the 2021 regular season, including taking all of the Canadian teams and putting them into one division.
More than a quarter of the way through the season, the Maple Leafs hold a six-point advantage over Montreal and Edmonton for first in the Scotia North Division, with only five losses in 17 games.
Toronto is fourth in the NHL in goals-for per game, but what has perhaps been the most promising element of their game is the 2.65 goals-against per game, which is ninth best in the league.
That’s a far cry from last season, when after 70 games, they had the sixth worst goals-against per game average in the NHL.
The Maple Leafs’ accelerated their rebuild in 2016 when they selected Auston Matthews first overall in the NHL Draft.
He dominated the league upon arrival, and that trend continues to this day.
Through 16 games this season, Matthews has scored 14 goals, which leads the league. His shooting percentage is currently 20.9% -- four points higher than his career average.
Joe Thornton with some high praise for @AM34. 🙌#NHLonSN | @MapleLeafs pic.twitter.com/0RdKmjU9sE— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) February 18, 2021
Joe Thornton with some high praise for @AM34. 🙌#NHLonSN | @MapleLeafs pic.twitter.com/0RdKmjU9sE
Can Matthews continue to be just as productive in the postseason? Toronto's fanbase is hungry for another championship, and the pressure on him to deliver when it matters most will be immense.
The microscope of the playoffs can focus intently on goaltending, especially in a hockey hotbed like Toronto. But at least statistically, goaltending wasn’t the biggest issue in each of Toronto’s previous two playoff exits.
Frederik Andersen posted a .922 save percentage with four quality starts in seven games back in 2019, and a .936 save percentage in five games during the qualifying round last summer. Toronto still lost.
His save percentage is down this season, currently at .908, which is below his career average of .916.
#LeafsForever Frederik Andersen has an NHL-high 10 wins this season. He has made 10 consecutive starts for the Maple Leafs, going 7-1-2 with a 2.61 GAA & .908 SV%. pic.twitter.com/B6HbbIj9xN— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) February 18, 2021
#LeafsForever Frederik Andersen has an NHL-high 10 wins this season. He has made 10 consecutive starts for the Maple Leafs, going 7-1-2 with a 2.61 GAA & .908 SV%. pic.twitter.com/B6HbbIj9xN
At age of 31, Andersen likely only has a few good years left, and even teams as skilled as Toronto need solid goaltending to push them over the top in the playoffs. Can bettors really trust that the type of shut-the-door goaltending the Maple Leafs need is what they’ll actually get in the postseason?
That’s the thing about the Maple Leafs: For every good thing about this hockey team, there is something else that raises serious questions. And the franchise's history since 1967 does nothing to change the narrative.
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