This was originally set to be the last week of the Leafs’ regular season, before positive tests forced the Vancouver Canucks and Habs to a standstill, and could well mark the last meaningful game the team faces before a best of seven.
Toronto already holds the North Division title in the regular season and would officially claim it with any combination of Leafs points earned and potential points lost from the Edmonton Oilers, totaling five.
It could happen in a matter of days.
The most unresolved question is who will finish fourth in the division and become their first-round opponent. Montreal was in that position at the start of Monday’s game at the Bell Center and has looked for weeks destined to face the Leafs, but a recent crash by the Winnipeg Jets saw them move up to third.
The picture will be much clearer after this mini-series which includes games at the Scotiabank Arena on Thursday and Saturday.
The Leafs, for what it’s worth, don’t seem overly concerned about these scenarios or their potential playoff opponent. They’ve been particularly focused on putting on the best possible regular season since Kyle Dubas set that benchmark on the first night of training camp and they’ll try to win the rope anyway.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe has not indicated that load management will begin to enter into the equation of his roster decisions in the last five games of the regular season. And while he took the opportunity to cut down on Mitch Marner and Auston Matthew’s ice time in Saturday’s comfortable 5-1 win over Vancouver, it doesn’t necessarily look like it will happen again either.
“We also try to be competitive and win games,” Keefe explained. “Keep the best in their pace and conditioning and the demands of playing a lot of minutes. We don’t want to go back too far and then you have too much hindsight to revive them when the playoffs start.
The way they end will speak of a level of focus that hasn’t diminished much throughout this shortened season. The Leafs have won five straight games and are currently fifth overall in the NHL with a 0.696 point percentage.
Look under the hood and some key metrics highlight their growth: They are second in expected goals for percentage, third in goals for 5v5 and they have improved to 11th in high danger odds against after being 26th in the last season. , according to naturalstattrick.com.
While the ultimate success of the campaign will be measured by their performance in the playoffs, they have handled regular season business at a level this unit group has never reached before. This was a key objective stated at their first meeting in early January.
“My goal right now is very, very clearly to have a great training camp and prepare for the regular season and then have a regular season as good as possible and I think that will allow us to build a based. and a process that will allow us to succeed [in the playoffs]», Dubas said.
If the Leafs finish first in the division, it would be the first time the organization has accomplished this feat since 1999-2000 in the Northeast Division.
There are still personal milestones to be crossed – Matthews has two goals from No.40 and is likely to win the Rocket Richard Trophy, while Marner is able to finish higher on the league points list than anyone else. what a Leafs player for decades – and injured. players to work again. Zach Hyman (MCL sprain) and Frederik Andersen (knee problem) both would like to see the action of the game before the playoffs.
But it can be said that the most important indicator of all will be what this last semi-significant part of games looks like from a team perspective.
“We don’t want to stray from our state of mind from day one,” said captain John Tavares. “The way we try to play and build our game and deal with adversity and the identity that we want to have. We don’t want to let any of these habits slip away.
“Obviously we’re still playing a lot – we’re trying to keep the top spot in the division. “