A tremendous effort by the Toronto Maple Leafs followed it up with a dud on Thursday. The Leafs had a marquee victory over the Lightning and then got punched in the mouth by the Panthers the following night. They got a little too far ahead of themselves after beating the Lightning. Just because they beat Tampa, didn’t guarantee a win the next night against a struggling Panthers squad. They certainly didn’t look ready to play and it showed.
Those kinds of losses do hurt when the standings are set and final at the end of the regular season. Garret Sparks got the nod in that one, but it wasn’t his fault they lost. The Leafs scored within the opening 5 minutes of puck drop and then coasted from there. It initially looked like the game might turn into a rout given the start and the team they were playing.
Frederik Andersen will likely be back in net tonight to face the Arizona Coyotes. The Eastern Conference is a competitive conference and the Leafs have no guarantees for the rest of the season. Like many others, where they are going to land as a seed for the playoffs could be all over the place.
This is of course assuming that Toronto doesn’t have an epic meltdown in the second-half and crater all the way outside of the playoffs. An unlikely scenario, but if William Nylander doesn’t figure it out before the postseason arrives, the Leafs are going to have an expensive mistake on the ice.
It may not be related, but Toronto has had a better record playing without Nylander than with him. He noted that he’s in a slump, well, yeah. We just haven’t seen him get hot since signing his new contract and coming back, so it could be more than a slump. He and the Leafs welcome a Coyotes team who are coming off a hard fought loss against the Penguins on Friday. Hard fought losses have been a recurring theme for the Coyotes this season. They are competing, though it hasn’t been enough to get them over the hill. Head below for our free Coyotes vs. Maple Leafs pick.
Arizona Coyotes vs. Toronto Maple Leafs Pick
The Yotes enter Toronto on Sunday with a record of 21-22-3. The guy who they hope to lure to Arizona is playing with a blue jersey on tonight. Scottsdale native, Auston Matthews, grew up a Coyotes’ fan so the narrative has been that he will return home to play for them. He gets along with fellow American, Clayton Keller, who would be an impressive duo in Arizona.
Keller is going to need an extension soon, as well as guys like Nick Schmaltz, and Christian Fischer, though. Mitch Marner continues to produce and get better, so it’s unlikely the Leafs can keep both. As it is now, Toronto has significant talent all over the ice and their offensive prowess can match any team in the league. Have we seen at as consistently as the Lightning? Nope, but when everything is working, it’s working for the Leafs. They enter Sunday with an average of 3.53 goals per game for 4th in the league.
The most surprising element of their game this season has been their defence. The sky seemed to be falling in on the Leafs in the offseason, with critics suggesting that their defence wouldn’t be able to hold their own. They’ve been doing better than that, with a top-10 defence in 2018-19. Part of that has been Andersen in net, but their blue liners have stepped it up as well.
If their offence can catch fire at the right time, there aren’t many teams in the Eastern Conference that will be able to stop them. But can the Yotes stop them tonight? Arizona can provide a battle, but I like to think after that pathetic performance in Sunrise, the Leafs are going to come out blazing in Toronto. The Coyotes have averaged just 2.48 goals per game on the road this season, which they are going to have to eclipse to keep this game within a goal. In their first meeting this season, the Leafs put up 7 goals in a 7-4 victory in Arizona. Don’t expect that, but I could see a 4-2 or 5-2 final for the Leafs on Sunday.