Maple Leafs are once again an 18-wheeler going right off a cliff

JamesReimer

Another critical two points on the line, another critical two points squandered by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Leafs dropped their fifth straight on Sunday night, falling 3-2 to the New Jersey Devils. They continued their recent trend of surrendering the game’s first goal, falling behind 3-0 in one of James Reimer’s worst performances of the season. Reimer was yanked in favor of 30-year-old third-stringer Drew MacIntyre, who saw his first NHL action of the year.

On March 14, the Maple Leafs were fresh off a 3-2 victory over the L.A. Kings and had 80 points in the bank. They were nine points up on the ninth place Detroit Red Wings. Five consecutive losses later, the Blue and White are tied with Detroit at 80 points, and they hold the East’s final wild card spot by a single point.

During the March 2012 press conference in which then-GM Brian Burke introduced Randy Carlyle as Ron Wilson’s replacement, Burke referred to his team’s freefall at the end of Wilson’s coaching tenure as “akin to an 18-wheeler going right off a cliff.” Two years later, Carlyle’s group is dangerously close to the same cliff.

This year, like 2012, the Leafs appeared to be a lock for the post-season a short time before their collapse, but a sudden downturn jeopardized their playoff chances.

Expectations were heightened entering this year after Toronto showed they could compete with the Boston Bruins in a seven game series. Despite being heavily outshot all season, the Leafs had managed to overcome probabilities and remain in the playoff picture. If the odds have caught up to them and we’re finally seeing the real Maple Leafs, major changes will be made in the off-season.

If his team falls short, Randy Carlyle won’t be back for another year behind the bench. That would be a virtual certainty. Second, a major core piece — or perhaps more — would be dealt. Joffrey Lupul, Nazem Kadri, Cody Franson, or even captain Dion Phaneuf. Outside of Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Morgan Rielly and Jonathan Bernier, anyone could realistically be moved. And in this scenario, the man shuffling the assets could be someone other than current GM Dave Nonis.

Thankfully for Toronto, there’s still time. But that time will only be useful if the slide is reversed immediately. After Sunday’s loss, sportsclubstats.com lists the Leafs’ playoff chances of making the playofs at 34.5 percent.

Up next for the Leafs are games against the powerhouse Blues, the surging Flyers, and the Red Wings to wrap up the month. To conclude the season, the Leafs play three straight on the road. To make the playoffs, the Leafs will need five or six wins — or perhaps more — and some help from other teams in the chase.