The Maple Leafs have been inconsistent this season. Some nights they can play a solid defensive game, others they leak chances every other shift and that's why they find themselves basically eliminated from contention for the Division Title, though they are still almost a sure-thing to make the playoffs.
Starting on February tenth, this ten-game stretch could separate the Toronto Maple Leafs from Tampa Bay and Detroit or pull them into a wild card spot. With the stretch run coming, we need to see a consistent effort of solid hockey for the rest of the year if they are capable of it.
Over the last ten games, the Maple Leafs sit at 5-5-0 in comparison to the Lightning's 7-3-0 record and the Red Wings 6-2-2 record. Points have slipped away for the Leafs in the last ten most memorably allowing Andrew Copp to score late in a 4-2 loss to the Red Wings, allowing Ryan McLeod to score late in a 4-2 loss to the Oilers, and allowing former Leaf, Pierre Engvall to score late in a 3-2 loss to the Islanders. That kind of stuff needs to be cleaned up.
With John Tavares and William Nylander starting to find the back of the net, it would be a great time for other guys to get going as well.
Toronto Maple Leafs Schedule
The reason why the next ten games are so important for the Leafs is not only because of their upcoming games but also the games for Tampa Bay and Detroit.
The Maple Leafs are set to play the Senators, Blues, Flyers, Ducks, Coyotes, Avalanche and the Golden Knights. Half of those games are at home and they play the Blues, Ducks and the Golden Knights at home as well as away (Schedules from NHL.com).
While there are some tough matchups there, there are also opportunities against some teams that the Leafs should beat. We know the Leafs struggle against non-playoff teams but they need to start taking advantage of these opportunities.
Tampa Bay Lightning Schedule
The Lightning, no different from the past couple of seasons, is right on the Leafs tail. Sitting only a point back, although they've played three more games than the Maple Leafs .
In the next ten games, Tampa Bay plays the Blue Jackets, Bruins, Avalanche, Panthers, Senators, Capitals, Islanders, Devils, Flyers and the Sabres. Like the Leafs schedule, half of these games are at home. With some incredibly tough matchups against the Avalance, Bruins and their inter-state rivals the Florida Panthers, there are openings for the Lightning to drop points in the next ten games.
Even the games against the Sabres and Senators, who have both had rough seasons, are divisional opponents which creates a tougher game.
Detroit Red Wings Schedule
The Red Wings are a team a lot of people thought would tail off. So far they have had a strong season, sitting a point back of Tampa Bay with two games in hand over them. In the next ten games, Detroit is going up against the Canucks, Oilers, Flames, Kraken, Avalanche, Blues, Blackhawks, Capitals, and the Islanders.
Much like the Leafs, there are some opportunities against non-playoff teams. However, they also have to go on the Western Canada road trip as well as playing a Western Conference-leading Canucks team twice.
With a young team like Detroit, it will be interesting to see how they fare on this road trip and how they match up against the top Western Conference teams.
So Why Does This Matter?
For the Maple Leafs having teams like the Senators and Ducks on the schedule three times is a huge opening for this team. If the Leafs can take five or six points from these three games it takes a lot of pressure off when they have games coming up against teams like the Golden Knights and Avalanche. The Leafs also tend to play to the level of their competition so I can see them taking a game off of Vegas and Colorado.
If you take care of business in this ten-game stretch and you can post a 7-3-0 record or even a 6-3-1 record it allows you to create a gap. You have to take advantage of these opportunities when the teams chasing, specifically, Tampa Bay, have a gauntlet to run through.