On this the last day of October it's time to look to the upcoming month of Leafs hockey. Here's a game by game look at what November has in store for the Leafs.
November 2nd at New Jersey:
The Devils have been wildly mediocre out the gates this season, but have been hindered by the absence of Martin Brodeur for a good chunk on the month. Their 4-4-1 record is built on two wins against the Kings, and victories over the Hurricanes and Predators. Their toughest competition has been the Pens and Flyers and both times they fell rather flat.
Last season the Leafs had a 2-1-1 record against the Devils, and New Jersey finished the season with 81 points. This is one of the games the Leafs need to win in order to avoid another November collapse.
November 3rd at Columbus:
The Blue Jackets have started the season with the worst record in the NHL for the month of October, going 2-9-1 and losing Jeff Carter in the process. The wins came against Anaheim and Detroit and both have come in the past week so potentially this is a team on the rebound.
Last season the Leafs lost their only game against the Blue Jackets, a team that finished with 81 points. Like New Jersey they are a very beatable team that should supply an easy two points. That being said I wouldn't be surprised in Steve Mason plays his first lights out game in three years.
November 5th vs Boston:
It's hard to poke fun at the Bruins when they're coming off a Stanley Cup win and most of their prospect depth can be attributed to the Leafs, but a 3-7-0 start in October is pretty funny. Only Columbus was worse than them, but of course of those three wins one did come in the form of trouncing the Leafs.
Last season the Leafs fared well against Boston finishing with a 4-2-0 record, and this year they are struggling. Hopefully with Reimer between the pipes the next time these teams face-off the Leafs will return to form against them, but it is also unlikely that the Bruins will be kept down for too long and with three games against a pissed off Boston team in 28 days could be unfortunate for the Leafs.
November 8th vs Florida:
Florida has started the season better than most would have expected with a 6-4-0. Apparently Kris Versteeg and Brian Campbell like playing for Dale Tallon and Jacob Markstrom will eventually take over the Calder race once Ryan Nugent-Hopkins hits his first cold spell. Since jettisoning David Booth the Panthers are 3-1-0.
Like all teams that you'd think the Leafs could beat easily, the Panthers did well against Toronto and they split the season series 2-2-0 despite Florida's dismal 72 points on the year. I'd have to assume that Kris Versteeg will in some way come back to burn the Leafs but this game should hopefully be a Toronto win.
November 10th at St. Louis:
The best part of the Blues season so far has been Brian Elliott. That has the makings of a disastrous year, and their 5-6-0 start will probably be consistent with how they do the rest of the year. It's also worth noting that Alex Steen is leading the Blues in Goals and Points and that Lee Stempniak is an asshole.
The Leafs won their one game against the Blues last season in a game best remembered for Grabbo Awesomeness. The Blues finished last season with 87 points and that's probably around what they'll do this season. Much like the Leafs they are a bubble team and this game could go either way.
November 12th vs Ottawa:
If NHL Pundits are calling for the Leafs bubble to burst in November, I'd be interested in hearing what they think will happen to the surging Senators. Ottawa has no business owning a 7-5-0 record. Like the Leafs, Ottawa has benefitted from an easy October schedule, and only one of their wins came against a team that was in the playoffs last season.
The Leafs went 3-2-1 against the Senators last season, a team that finished with 74 points on the year. The 1-1-0 start to this season's series is equally disappointing, but it's hard to imagine that Colin Greening will be relevant much longer or that Michalek can go another half month without his knee exploding. After squandering a huge lead in the first meeting, and losing their second matchup, the Leafs need to reassert their dominance with a win against Ottawa.
November 15th vs Phoenix:
Phoenix doesn't seem to be hitting rock bottom as quickly as some expected after losing Bryzgalov in the offseason. Their 5-3-2 record is far from stellar, but there was no shortage of experts labeling them as a lottery team. Hopefully it's this lottery team that shows up on November 15th, and not the team that apparently can be backstopped successfully by Mike Smith.
In their only meeting last season the Coyotes disrupted Reimer's coming out party by handing him a loss on his successful Western road trip. The Coyotes, like the Blues, are a wild card and could be a bubble team in the West. As the schedule gets harder from here on out it's probably an important win for a team that is serious about the playoffs.
November 17th at Nashville:
The Preds 5-4-1 record isn't crushing, but probably isn't as good as they are capable of either. It's been a tough schedule in October, and with no one on the team with more than 3 goals it appears that it's the same story in Nashville this season as it's been in the past.
The Leafs won their sole matchup against the Predators last season, despite the fact that a defense featuring Weber and Suter, and a stellar goaltender like Pekka Rinne should almost guarantee a no-show on the Leafs part. I'm not overly optimistic that it can happen two years in a row and I expect Nashville to give Toronto a lot of trouble.
November 19th vs Washington:
The Capitals are off to a great start with the 2011-12 season. They currently own a 7-2-0 record. Tomas Vokoun has continued to be Tomas Vokoun. They're top three scorers are all producing, not at a mind blowing rate, but consistently, and the team now seems to have a physical presence that it was missing in the past.
The Leafs were as expected against the 107 point Capitals last season, going 1-1-2, but with those OTL/SOL giving a sense of moral victory. It's unlikely that trend will change much this season and Toronto should be happy to grab any points they can off of Washington this year.
November 20th at Carolina:
The Hurricanes are another team likely on the outside looking in out of the bubble teams, and their 4-4-3 record in October seems to hit home their mediocrity. The game will feature Jiri Tlusty, Ponikarovsky, Kaberle, Tim Brent, Jay Harrison and Paul Maurice all looking to come back and burn their former club, and historically ex-Leafs will do that.
The Leafs split the season series 2-2-0 last year, and this year's intrasquad series will probably play out the same way. If Cam Ward is on his game the Leafs are screwed, if it's an off night this will work out nicely.
November 22nd at Tampa Bay:
The Lightning haven't been as quick out the gates as they were last year and their 5-4-2 record has them seated third in their division. Their first month has seen them struggle against the Panthers, and the Islanders, two teams that should have been easy work for a team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The good news is that noted Leafs killer Dwayne Roloson seems to finally become a victim of his age, and is playing like a 42 year old goaltender. The bad news is that Stamkos is just entering his prime and has several years of Leafs killing to look forward to. Toronto did worse against Tampa than any other club last season finishing the year with a 0-3-1 record. Odds are they'll win one eventually, but it's hard to count on a win against the Lightning.
November 25th at Dallas:
Lost in the Toronto hype, and the Oilers youth lovefest is the fact that the Dallas Stars are also playing well beyond their means in October. Their 8-3-0 pace seems unsustainable for the team that is flirting with the salary cap minimum. Their October Schedule had a bow on it since it was such a gift, and I'm willing to bet that Kari Lehtonen doesn't have a 1.75 GAA or .950 save percentage too much longer.
Last season the Leafs won their only meeting with Dallas, and of course there is a chance they can do that again. The Stars were pegged by many as a potential lottery team and for the Leafs sake it would be great if that is the Stars team that shows up.
November 27th at Anaheim:
Anaheim is off to a 5-5-1 start this year and that's probably the pace they'll trek along at all season. After going 4-1-0 to start the season, the Ducks have been 1-4-1 the rest of the way, and seem to own one of the worst November schedules. A home game against Toronto will likely be a must win for them in a month that sees them only play to games against teams not in the 2011 playoffs.
Last season the Leafs won their matchup, and if Reimer continues his success against the Pacific Division it could be a nice end to a high mileage road trip. The game also allows us to scout a team that will inevitably provide us with a midseason acquisition.
November 30th vs. Boston:
Pretty much nothing to add to November 5th summary of the Bruins. At this point I'd assume they are firing on all cylinders and will be a sour pain in the ass to play against. And guess what, it's a home and home. The Leafs get them December 3rd as well. On the plus side, this is the last we see of Boston until March.
So there's a quick look at what November holds for Toronto. My conservatively optimistic prediction is for a 6-5-3 record, which should keep the Leafs on pace for a potential playoff spot. Perhaps I should try to be even more optimistic as the Leafs schedule seems built for grabbing the points as soon as possible since nothing about the February through April schedule seems too inviting.