With the Leafs off today, I got looking at the upcoming schedule and I’m pretty excited about the Leafs’ chances to finish off the month of October with more than a few wins. With two more home games against the Rangers, a home game with the Florida Panthers and road contests at Boston and Philadelphia, the rest of October is no cakewalk, but it would be a disappointment if the Buds don’t celebrate Halloween with at least 2 or 3 wins under their belt.
Ran across an interesting fanpost over at PPP the other day, discussing how it’s going to be more important for Toronto to make sure they maximize points against teams that they should beat than to knock off heavyweights like the Capitals or Penguins. In my opinion, every game offers the same chance at two points, that’s what’s beautiful about hockey – on any given night, a hot goalie or a hotshot kid can change the game. Still, it would make life much easier if the Leafs can start to bankroll points against other bubble teams and teams that aren’t expected to be in the playoff mix. (Like the Islanders, cough, cough) Not only will they be adding valuable points to their own tally, but taking them away from their closest competition for what will in all likelihood be one of the bottom three playoff spots by year’s end.
Road games are tough to call, and while the Leafs have been great on the road in their first two games away from the ACC this year, it’s simply unrealistic to consider a regular season road game in November or December a must-win. Still, there’s more than a few home games against so-called bubble teams that the Leafs should consider must-win. Get out the red markers and circle your calendars, here’s the five home games from the rest of 2010 that the Leafs should consider must-win. (Note: I haven’t included any of the upcoming games against Montreal, because frankly, I don’t want to give them that much respect, whether they’ve earned it or not)
November 2 vs. Ottawa Senators – The Sens’ first trip to the ACC was met with anything but hospitality, and any time these two clubs tangle, it’s a good show. Pascal Leclaire may be recovered from his recent injury by then, but either way, just about any time these two provincial rivals clash in Toronto, the Leafs expect to win.
November 30 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning – The Leafs will get their first look at Steve Stamkos and the rest of the new-look Lightning on the road at Tampa earlier in the month, and with the Lightning’s revamped offense, they’re expected to be right in the thick of the playoff race come April. Grabbing two points from them at the ACC in the final game of November might not sound that important now, but if the Leafs can keep it together all season, you never know how crucial two points, or even just one can be.
December 4 vs. Boston Bruins – The Leafs will travel to Boston next week to take on the B’s, but the Bruins will return the favor in one of the first games of December. Boston won four of the six meetings between the teams last year, but two of the wins were in OT, and both Toronto wins came at the ACC, as well as one of the OT losses.
December 20 vs. Atlanta Thrashers – Former Thrasher Colby Armstrong will make his debut against his old club at the ACC, and frankly, if the Leafs expect to make the playoffs, they have to consistently beat teams like the Thrashers. Atlanta will be a tough out all year long, with a gritty lineup highlighted by Dustin Byfuglien and Evander Kane.
December 28 vs. Carolina Hurricanes – Alot of people didn’t give the ‘Canes much credit coming into the season, but so far, Cam Ward looks like he’s back in form, and Jeff Skinner could be a legitimate Calder contender. I fully expect Carolina to make the playoffs this year, just hopefully not at the expense of the Leafs.