A sobering reality was evident in the Leafs’ 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Boston Bruins on Saturday night; the 2017-18 Toronto roster belongs in the ‘pretenders’, not ‘contenders’, category when assessing its championship pedigree.
Certainly Leafs Nation has been buoyed by unbridled enthusiasm at various points this season. The free-flowing October Leafs were on offensive juggernaut. And, their recent four-game winning streak – halted by the B’s – was arguably their best stretch of the year.
Though to put things in perspective, the back-to-back shutouts of the Islanders and Rangers – as dominant and impressive as those performances were – came at the hands of failing netminders Thomas “Sieve” Griess and an antiquated Henrik Lundqvist.
On Saturday, Tuukka Rask, who extended his personal point streak to an astounding 20 games, reminded Mike Babcock’s squad of what can happen when the Leafs are up against first-rate goaltending.
The rejuvenated Toronto offense that had outscored its opponents 16-3 over its previous four games was stifled by Boston’s defenders at every turn. Indeed it’s as if the Bruins were playing keep-away all night.
Leafs never owned the puck tonight. Rarely rented it.
— Kevin Paul Dupont (@GlobeKPD) February 4, 2018
The Leafs’ lone goal came in the first period, after Boston defenceman Charlie McAvoy – in his return to the lineup after undergoing a procedure to treat a heart ablation – accidentally guided the puck into his own net.
“I thought they were quicker, better, executed harder and had more players going than we did tonight and it showed,” coach Mike Babcock said to reporters after the game.
While the Leafs may be underpeforming from the perspective of the curious season-long narrative that suggests that this team is a 2018 championship contender, the team – which to their credit has displayed flashes of brilliance – is meeting the expectations of more realistic observers.