Over the course of the 2016-17 campaign the Leafs have been remarkably fortunate to remain healthy; free of any so-called injury ‘bug’.
Data compiled at ManGamesLost.com indicates that Toronto had lost a mere 104 man games due to injury as of March 25, the fifth-fewest total in the NHL.
Indeed, much of that total has been compiled by the likes of Matt Hunwick, Connor Carrick, Ben Smith and Martin Marincin, none of whom are game-breakers.
But for Leafs fans eagerly biting their fingernails to see if the team will clinch their first full regular-season playoff berth in 13 years, the timing couldn’t be worse for a stroke of bad luck to top goalie Frederik Andersen. His incredibly ill-timed ailment may prove to be catastrophic.
The Leafs’ top offensive threats have spent a minuscule amount of time on the injury shelf. Auston Matthews hasn’t missed a game. In Saturday’s loss to Buffalo – during which Andersen’s injury was sustained, magnifying the netminder’s importance to the team – Matthews collected his 34th goal of the year. The feat managed to tie the team rookie record set by Wendel Clark in 1985-86.
Though if the Calder Trophy candidate had been sidelined at any point this season – as Clark was for 14 games in the latter’s rookie campaign 31 years ago – the record wouldn’t have been equaled so quickly.
Toronto’s best player who has sat out for any considerable length of time is Mitch Marner, whose February shoulder injury sidelined the Calder trophy candidate for effectively six games. And even then, the Leafs compiled a 2-2-2 record over that stretch.
William Nylander, a no-go for November 26 versus Washington? Shrug. The Leafs won anyway.
As the team continue to dispel predictions of faltering during the grind of the schedule, the lingering question always remained: can they continue to stay healthy? And for 73 games, the Leafs managed to evade any significant medical issues.
But the wrong injury, to the wrong player at the wrong time, leaves a once-seemingly comfortable lock on a playoff spot in doubt.
The first test of the team’s fortitude in the Andersen-less part of the schedule comes tonight in Florida, with Curtis McElhinney called upon to withstand the barrage of pucks from the Panthers and Garret Sparks, summoned yesterday from the Marlies, backing him up.
Lady Luck can be cruel. Not all games lost are created equally.