Led Zeppelin once sang about “Going to California, with an achin’ in my heart.”
If you’re a Leafs fan, you’ve likely echoed that sentiment after seeing the team earn just one of a possible six points during their three-game swing to the Golden State.
Yes, it was a disastrous trip. And, in many mays, it’s what you should have expected, assuming you have been paying attention to this team for the past decade.
Look, no one is saying that the Matthews-Marner-Babcock led Leafs aren’t fun to watch. If anyone in September would have said that the team would be on the bubble for a playoff spot at just past the quarter-pole of the season, come March, the playoff-starved city of Toronto would be salivating like a Pavlovian dog.
But the consistent comedy of errors evidenced during this stretch of games is nothing more than the grind of an 82-game schedule finally catching up to what has been an entertaining, yet overachieving, roster.
And no one player is at fault. You can go down the roster from Jake Gardiner, whose deer-in-headlights backcheck late in regulation made it easy for San Jose’s Tomas Hertl to score the game-winner, forcing the Leafs to leave SAP Arena without so much as a loser point.
Then there’s the blown two-goal, third period lead, followed by a shootout loss. Yes that description can be attached to numerous outings this year. For purposes of this column, let’s apply it to Thursday’s game in Los Angeles.
Which brings us to Anaheim. Let’s face it, Mitch Marner has the potential to make a jaw-dropping play every time he steps on the ice. Too bad on Friday night, it was in favour of the opponents, namely his ill-fated backwards pass in the defensive zone led to the tying goal by the Ducks.
The masochists in the Eastern time zone who were staying up late know what happened, 16 seconds later.
Connor Brown, yet another feisty freshman who has rightfully earned the adulation of Leafs fans, coughs up the puck a foot from the blueline. Nazem Kadri and Roman Polak are caught standing still (and where, exactly was Matt Hunwick?), and the puck is in the back of the net for Anaheim’s eventual game-winner.
By no means is this Leafs slump a repeat of the infamous 18-wheeler falling off the cliff.
This team will continue to fight tooth-and-nail to the final buzzer of Game 82. They’ll leave fans biting their fingernails at the edge of their seats.
But, having already surpassed last year’s point total, everything else from here on is gravy.
Sure, it’s fine to scoreboard watch and get excited about the playoff race; activities which haven’t been available to Leafs fans in a full 82-game season since Wade Dubielewicz’s poke check.
However, it’s recommended to keep your expectations low. It’s better to be pleasantly surprised in the best-case scenario instead of clinging to aspirations, only to have your hopes dashed.
In 2016, Rob wrote “Hockey’s Enforcers: A Dying Breed”, now available at Chapters and Indigo stores everywhere.