The Maple Leafs West Coast Swing Has a "Must Win" Feel

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The end of 2023 was not kind to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Last year's number-one goaltender was placed on waivers, there was a player-benching, and they lost five of their last six games to finish out the year.

Three of the Toronto Maple Leafs losses were against teams lower than them in the standings, continuing a long-standing trend of playing down to inferior opponents and missing out on valuable points.

Before the Leafs recent tailspin, they had placed themselves comfortably within the Atlantic Division, but the wheels have fallen off.

After waiving Ilya Samsonov, fourth-round draft pick and potential goalie of the future, Dennis Hildeby, was recalled from the Toronto Marlies. Hildeby and his new teammates will depart to the West Coast and try to right the ship.

Toronto Maple Leafs: West Coast Swing Has a "Must Win" Feel

Almost fifty games remain on the Leafs schedule, and it's only January, but this three-game trip has a "must-win" feel to it.

It was only a couple of weeks ago that the Leafs were in second place in the Atlantic Division and were within four points of the first-place Boston Bruins, with games in hand on each team.

They were coming off of two of their most complete games of the season in victories over the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins. Some of their early-year mediocrity seemed to be in the rearview mirror.

The Rangers won a rematch at Scotiabank Arena, but inexcusable losses to the Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Ottawa Senators followed. The most recent loss came against the well-structured Carolina Hurricanes.

Suddenly, the Leafs position in the standings is not so secure. The Panthers and Bruins have created some distance for the first and second spots in the division that come with home-ice advantage in the playoffs.

More worrisome is that a few more losses will find the Leafs amongst the giant cluster of teams fighting for wild-card positions in the Eastern Conference.

The Leafs should consider themselves fortunate that most of that midpack of Eastern playoff contenders is in the Metropolitan Division.

For now, the Leafs are in a good position ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings in the Atlantic, but if this recent funk is not stopped, disaster looms. Dropping out of the top 3 within the division is asking for trouble.

Plus, should the Leafs envision a home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs, they can't let the Bruins and Panthers get out of reach in the standings.

Another reason the Leafs need a productive road trip is for their confidence. The negative vibe around the team is mentally draining for the players and the staff.

The longer the slide goes, the more difficult it becomes. The early-season funk of the Edmonton Oilers is a good example.

The Toronto Maple Leafs need to use the sun and the West Coast vibe to rejuvenate their season. At least two wins must be had.

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Anything less and their outlook will be anything but sunny.