Yes, it’s early but the Toronto Maple Leafs upcoming road trip carries more importance than usual. Three games into the National Hockey League season, despite new additions, old habits continue to haunt the Leafs.
Their problem has been, difficult to detect and track, subjective mental errors at key moments during games. A breakdown in the team’s defensive structure has been at the forefront of their issues for years.
It’s got to the point that head coach Sheldon Keefe seems exasperated. After the Leafs first hiccup of the season, he is not so subtly calling on his players to do better.
More Significance Than Usual To Upcoming Toronto Maple Leafs Road Trip
The Leafs sizzling offensive start hid some of their concerns, but their deficiencies were front and center for everyone to see in their loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.
That makes their imminent road trip more important than usual. The five away games include last year’s Stanley Cup Finalist, the Florida Panthers, recent two-time champion the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the perennial playoff bound Dallas Stars.
The Leafs will see a couple of teams eager to put last year’s disappointing seasons behind them in the Washington Capitals and Nashville Predators.
There is not a “gimme” on this trip.
While the Leafs spent the first two games filling the net, their difficulties were pushed to the side. The loss to the Blackhawks have brought them into focus.
It’s not a short list.
Starting goaltender Ilya Samsonov has looked average (that’s being kind). The Leafs have one defense pair that looks reliable. The team’s new additions have been mostly invisible.
Ryan Reaves’ hitting and fighting have brought energy, but early signs indicate the fourth line is a weakness.
Keefe is frustrated because this is not the first time he has called out his star players, imploring them to help out defensively. He did the same thing almost exactly one year ago.
Put it altogether and the team’s first road trip of the year carries significance.
It has the potential to set an early tone to the season.
Coming back to Toronto with six or more points, showing improved defensive structure with fewer mental errors and joy will return to Leafs Nation.
Should the Leafs earn five points or less with more of the same failures from the first three games the team could already be in chase mode for the Atlantic Division title.
October 31st looms as an important, early date on the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey calendar. By then, their own horror show may have started.