On The Precipice
Either the NHL standings are lying and have been lying for three months, or the Maple Leafs have clearly established themselves as also-rans with very little chance of qualifying for post-season play. There's not even very much to argue about any more.
They sit in 12th place in the Eastern Conference today, and have only briefly been among the top eight teams in the conference since the season began.
Even a recent hot streak - 5-1-1 in seven games - really didn't move them up much, and now they've gone cold again, including last night's 4-1 loss to a Philadelphia Flyers team that was going terribly until running into the Leafs.
During that strong streak of play, there were numerous promising signs. Now all the signs are sour, including:
- Mats Sundin and Nik Antropov, the club's two best attackers all season, have gone cold and have been split up as linemates.
- Darcy Tucker, a top-six forward a year ago, is now a seldom-used fourth liner and has three goals in 30 games. He played less than 10 minutes both games in losses to the Islanders and Flyers the last two nights.
- Andy Wozniewski, a regular member of the club's six defencemen all season, was sent to the press box Thursday in favour of Carlo Colaiacovo.
- Jason Blake, the club's key off-season free agent pickup, has five goals in 38 games and has developed a penchant for costly giveaways. He hasn't really meshed with any of the club's other forwards and spends his time tossing routine wrist shots at the enemy net from long distance.
- Kyle Wellwood, counted on as the team's No. 2 centre going into the season, has 10 points and, like Blake, is guilty of mid-ice turnovers on a regular basis and is generally ineffective five-on-five.
- Vesa Toskala, after earning the No. 1 goaltending job, is out with a mysterious groin problem. His backup, Andrew Raycroft, has given up eight goals in two games and is in the process of reducing any trade value he might have had with his terrible rebound control.
If Toskala can't go Saturday against the Rangers, it only makes sense to give Scott Clemmensen, strong all season with the Marlies, a chance to start after backing up Raycroft against the Isles and Flyers. He can't fare much worse.
In the bigger picture, only two teams - Washington and Los Angeles - have fewer wins than the Leafs' 15 triumphs in 38 games, while no team has lost as many games in OT or shootouts (eight).
Either the standings are lying, or. . .