The Leafs have had what they would deem a “slump” by dropping two games in regulation, and the fact that these losses came against a very bad Canucks team might lead people to panic. Those people would be silly. There are going to be off nights, and Auston Matthews is still recovering. The Leafs are safely the first place team in this division, and all the juggernaut jinxes in the world won’t change that.
That being said, I was curious this week, and decided to ask The Leafs Nation contributors who is likely to take the second place spot in the Scotia North Division and why. Here are their responses…
At the start of the season, I would have said that the Canadiens would end up in second. But as we approach the halfway point, it’s starting to look like it will be the Jets that finish there as they have separated themselves from the rest of the division as the second best team in Canada. I think they and the Leafs will be in a dog fight the rest of the way and the team that will be their biggest threat for the top spot.
The Toronto Maple Leafs….. Nah just kidding, it’s the Canadiens. They’ve been poor lately but they’ll bounce back and take the second place spot everyone thought they’d have at the start of the year after the Jets take a bit of a tumble.
Introducing Tony Ferrari:
The Winnipeg Jets would be my pick for second in the North Division. They seem to have the best balance of scoring ability and goal prevention, thanks to the best goaltender in the division, Connor Hellebuyck. With Pierre-Luc Dubois in the fold to solidify their center depth behind Mark Scheifele, the Jets are better down the middle with any team outside of Toronto and Edmonton. The criminally underrated Nik Ehlers and Kyle Connor should be able to help the Jets score with just about anyone in the division as well.
The Jets lackluster blueline is a concern but it’s a hole that has been able to be covered up by an all-world goaltender. Josh Morrisey and Neal Pionk have both looked good at times this year, providing serviceable work on the back end. If Hellebuyck can continue to be among the best in the world in net and they continue scoring at the second-highest rate as a team in the division, they may finish closer to Toronto than whoever finishes third, especially if they can take a few games from the Leafs, who they’ve only played once so far.
I’m going to say the Montreal Canadiens still, but I’m also not fully confident in this answer because I haven’t seen enough of them with Ducharme to figure if they’re still a good team or not. That said, right now they look a lot better than the rest of the options. The Leafs showed the world that the Oilers really have nothing if you can contain McDavid and Draisaitl. The Jets look good now, but they also have the worst underlying numbers in the North division (yes, even worse than Ottawa and Vancouver), have a horrendous defense that Connor Hellebuyck can only cover up for so long, and the biggest factor of all: they still have nine more games against the Leafs this season. The Flames are the only other realistic option, and I’d say they’re still a competent team, but we’ll have to see how they do with the coaching change as well, and they might also be too far out of it to get to second at this point as well. There really isn’t an option in this division that inspires confidence in me besides the Leafs, so it’ll be interesting to see that final results.
I’m going to go with someone different and say the Edmonton Oilers have a chance at this. While the Leafs exposed the Oilers for being a top-heavy team with poor goaltending during their three game sweep last week, the Oilers had an impressive 10 games just before that embarrassment. At some point the Oilers are going to have to make a significant play to fix their flawed roster, and it starts with finding a reliable goaltender. Koskinen and Smith aren’t getting it done and it’s plausible that GM Ken Holland makes a trade deadline splash to bring in a superstar netminder. With McDavid and Draisaitl having game-breaking abilities, solidifying the net may go a long way towards getting this team into the win column more often than not.
I abstain from answering this because the inherent assumption that the Leafs finish first is making my superstition cry.
I’m with Mer on this one, this seems like it might be inviting some bad juju. Not to mention I got no time to be gassing up these other inferior Canadian teams.
If I did have to pick one team to finish second, however, I’d say that I’m with much of the rest of the gang and would pick the Montreal Canadiens. It really comes down to two things: 1) how relevant is their early-season success under Julien and 2) Do you think they’ll figure out that Jake Allen has got to be their guy. The Habs’ underlying numbers remain particularly strong, though we’ll see how much the coaching change affects those results. In the end, however, it’s really all about putting the puck in and keeping it out of the net. Jake Allen has really stabilized things between the pipes, but it’s once again the same old story with the Habs, a lack of finishing talent leading to a poor team shooting percentage (20th in the league per NaturalStatTrick). Combined with their continued insistence on leaning on a washed-up Carey Price for too much of the season to date (though Allen seems to have stolen the starting gig given that he’s gotten 3 of the last 5 starts) and they’ve really gotten themselves in a sticky situation on the precipice of being on the outside looking in. The Habs seemingly have the talent, even if the gamebreakers are absent from their organization. It’s just a matter of them straightening the ship before things really spiral out of control and they wind up with their third missed playoff spot in the last four seasons.
Maybe it’s my complete lack of self confidence talking, but jinxes aren’t real, and reality is that no matter what I say here the Leafs will easily find themselves in first place in the North Division at the end of the season. The only thing that could interrupt that is an absolute lights out performance from one of the North Division goaltenders, and the only one that is capable of that is probably Connor Hellebucyk.
You’d think that means I see the Jets as the second place team in the division, but I’m going to go off the radar, and say that Darryl Sutter is capable of organizing the Flames enough in this division and can get some big time performances out of players like Tkachuk, Lindholm, and Monahan who all seem like they’d thrive in his environment. The Flames also have a blueline very suited to Sutter, and their goaltending situation isn’t particularly bad either. They might need to make a trade in order to get to where they need to be, but the Flames seem like they are making a bit of a last stand under Treliving, and trying to convince Gaudreau to stay, I won’t rule them out as my long shot pick to get all the way back in it.