The Maple Leafs are officially 13 games out from the end of the season, after losing 4-2 against the Washington Capitals Sunday afternoon. Despite the loss, the team is on track to earning their second playoff spot in a row. They are currently sitting at 2nd in the Atlantic Division and 3rd in the Eastern conference with 80 points. That being said, they have played between one and three games more than most teams in their conference, so getting as many wins as possible will be crucial to their post-season push.
For anyone who didn’t watch Thursday’s game against the LA Kings, Jonathan Bernier didn’t return to the ice for the second period, suffering a lower body injury in the first. Mid-way through the second period, Reimer was slow to get up after an accidental hit to the head by Kings centre Jarret Stoll. It’s a pretty safe assumption that all of Leafs Nation had a serious moment of panic while waiting to see if Reimer would get back up. It brought to light an extremely frightening question: what would the Leafs do if they lost both Bernier and Reimer? The two have been the shining stars of the team’s defensive lineup this season, so to lose them both would have been a serious risk to their oh-so-close playoff spot.
Ever since the Leafs’ “rebuilding” era, their defensive players and strategies have been discussed and criticized at length by fans, coaches and sports analysts, and the past few games were no exception.
When you combine all the defensive +/- scores, the team’s defence sits at a -7, Phaneuf and Gunnarsson the only two defensemen sitting above 0. Yes, there are only seven Leafs defensemen on their active roster, making it more likely for one of them to be on the ice when a goal is scored, but this doesn’t seem to affect other teams throughout the League.
The Kings are the currently the top defensive team in the League. Every single one of LA’s seven defensemen is +4 or higher, and all together, they are a +53. The Boston Bruins are currently the top team in the Atlantic Division and in the Eastern Conference. Of their 11 defensemen this season, their lowest +/- is a 0, and all together they are +139. These numbers don’t relate directly to the Leafs defensive efforts, but it’s a little alarming that they are only one spot behind the Bruins in their division, yet their defense is significantly less stable, which is one of the reasons why they fell apart in their last game of last year’s playoffs.
Some other scary defensive statistics this season? Toronto has one of the worst penalty kills in the League at 78.35%, which was made extremely obvious during Sunday’s game against the Caps. They have allowed 10 shorthanded goals against, the second worst of all teams in the League. They have allowed 207 goals against, 26th in the League (LA has allowed 140, Boston 143).
Now, take a look at Toronto’s goaltending statistics for this season. Bernier and Reimer are both in the top 25 goalies in the League as far as their save percentage goes. Bernier is 6th with a .925%, while Reimer is 25th with a .913%. This is both good and bad news for the Leafs. Their save percentages are high which means both their skills have been put to the test a lot, but they wouldn’t be so high if they didn’t face so many shots on goal (Bernier has seen 1631 in 50 games, 3rd in the League; Reimer has faced 866 shots in his 28 games).
Based on the numbers, the Leafs wouldn’t be doing as well as they are without their two goaltenders, so to see them both leave with injuries would be a real test for the rest of the team as they push for the playoffs. Luckily for them (and for the fans), Reimer’s brief moment of injury didn’t force him off the ice. The Leafs reported that Bernier’s injury may need an MRI, but seeing as he remained on the bench after his injury on Thursday instead of seeking immediate medical attention, the odds look like they’re in his favour.
The next 13 games are make-or-break for Toronto, but despite their defensive shortcomings, this is one of the best chances at a playoff spot after an 82-game season the team has seen in years.