Too early to call Leafs a playoff team

Leafs fans have seen this script before, so there’s no reason to get over-excited, at least not yet.

A remarkable 10-1-1 streak heading into tonight’s game against Carolina has certainly made the Air Canada Centre loud. OK, louder, by Toronto standards.

It wouldn’t look out of place for a pixel board in Maple Leaf Square to read “12” Games Without A Jersey Thrown On The Ice.

However, let’s not kid ourselves. The playoffs are far from a certainty.

Tuesday’s victory over Anaheim – a team that had gone into the game having won seven straight games – was entertaining, but not the model around which to build a strategy for consistent success. In many areas the Leafs were outworked and outmuscled, with little in the way of puck possession.

Shoddy Ducks goaltending in their 6-2 loss was their undoing. But Toronto can’t expect subpar performances from the opposing netminders every night.

“I don’t think you can take that to the bank tomorrow and say that we felt good about ourselves, from an execution standpoint, and from a defensive standpoint,” coach Randy Carlyle said. “We didn’t seem to have any energy in the forecheck.”

Now, this column isn’t meant to be a Debbie Downer. If you cheer for Toronto, then lately you’ve been happy, and you should be. However, placing the forthcoming schedule in perspective, the Leafs play 17 of their next 22 games on the road. The World Junior Hockey Championships are moving into 40 Bay Street, for those of you who have been living under a rock.

And before the parade route is planned in the glow of the 10-1-1 mark compiled since the November 18 embarrassment versus Nashville, let’s review another set of numbers:

11-2-1. That was the stretch that the Leafs went on before the Olympic break last season. Does anyone remember how the year ended?

“I feel that we are slipping, the last couple games. We have to get back to that more energetic, more stop and go, more straight-line hockey. We do have some players that are continuing to do it. But I think that, as a whole, I believe we feel our game has slipped here,” Carlyle said.

The first test of this road-heavy schedule begins at PNC Arena in Raleigh.

Carolina is a team that the Leafs should handle easily, having won just 8 games all year.

So a victory is in the bag; we’ve never seen the Leafs drop a game against an underachieving team before, right?

As for playoff predictions, we’ll review them again in mid-January. Only then will we have a true sense of whether this team in blue and white is for real, this time.

Like an ex-lover, they’ve disappointed too many times.

Rob Del Mundo is the author of Off The Post, and is a regular columnist at TMLfans.ca

Follow TMLfans.ca on Twitter: @Rob_DelMundo