The Toronto Maple Leafs have had an abysmal week. Despite their 7-6 win over Philadelphia this past Friday night, the Leafs lost to Tampa Bay 6-2, Chicago 5-4 (after being down 5-1 after two periods), and fell to Ottawa on the road 6-2.
While the comeback against the Flyers was thrilling, the defensive play from Toronto was nothing but tragic this past week. With only 10 games left before the first round of the playoffs, the Leafs are trending the wrong way.
Against Ottawa, Sparks had a goal or two that maybe Babcock would like to see him save, but when your team can’t make a smart play behind their own goal line, can’t back check, and are finding themselves outworked in their own end, the goalie can only help you so much.
When the Leafs kept Garret Sparks and lost Curtis McElhinney, some said it was a questionable choice. Sparks was the AHL goalie of the year last season, so when comparing a veteran who is 35 years old, compared to a 25 year old who seemed to be hitting his stride, you can’t fault Dubas for that. The Leafs problems would be no different if it was McElhinney in against Ottawa rather than Sparks. May a goal or two, but again, Toronto was never in the game.
Andersen can be better, too, but nothing that can outdo the defensive lapses by the players in front of him. The comments from Sparks after the Ottawa game struck some nerves with Leafs fans. Maybe it isn’t Sparks’ place to be calling out the room in his first full year with the team, but he is in the room and made three appearances this past week. Most weeks, he has no appearances. These are professional athletes, and if more needs to be done, if more emotion needs to be put into the game, or a better attitude into practice, the players know it.
Maybe it’s time for the Leafs to have a captain. The first year or two with Babcock, it was cute the whole ‘we don’t want to have a captain if we don’t have a captain’ but now, they have a few options. Tavares. Matthews. Rielly. Marleau. Babcock needs someone in the room who has been through the ups and downs who can help be the voice to get the Leafs out of slumps like these ones.
March Madness begins on Thursday (with play-in games beginning Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio), and unfortunately, I don’t have much faith we’re going to see too many upsets or underdogs reach the sweet 16 or elite eight. On the flip side, a Duke vs. Michigan State game would be exciting nonetheless. Tennessee and Virginia? The south and east seem more predictable than the west and midwest brackets. I think Cincinnati might surprise people in the south, and Iowa State and Houston could make noise in the midwest. On the other side of the bracket, maybe Texas Tech or Buffalo will make a run to the elite eight, and in the east, well, if it’s not Michigan State or Duke reaching the final four, then whoever it is, that’s the Cinderella team for this year.