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Is this the year the Maple Leafs break their playoffs hoodoo?


The 2022-23 National Hockey league (NHL) season is into its second half, and the battle for playoff places is well and truly on. The Toronto Maple Leafs enjoyed a strong first half of the campaign and now look odds on to reach the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season. If, as expected, the Maple Leafs are among the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference come the end of the season, would they be serious contenders for Stanley Cup glory?

Only two teams have reached more Stanley Cups than the Maple Leafs, and only one, the Montreal Canadiens, has lifted the trophy more times. However, the boys from Toronto have yet to navigate their way to the Stanley Cup final since they last won it in 1967 and have not triumphed in a playoff series since the 2003-04 season. All that looks set to change if the Maple Leafs can build on their strong start to this campaign.

A Superb Start to the 2022-23 Season

The Maple Leafs are the third favourites to win the Stanley Cup, according to the latest odds from the online sportsbook MyBookie. High-flying Boston Bruins and reigning champions Colorado Avalanche are the only two teams fancied over the Maple Leafs. At the time of writing, the Maple Leafs boast a 28-11-7 record, enough for 63 points. That points tally would usually be enough to lead the Atlantic Division, but the Boston Bruins are in ridiculous form (36-5-4) and have amassed 76 points from their 45 fixtures.

Head coach Sheldon Keefe saw his side finish October with a 4-4-2 record as the Maple Leafs struggled for consistency. Something clicked in November, just as it did last season, and the Maples Leafs went 11-1-3, with only the Pittsburgh Penguins managing to beat them in regulation time. However, they exacted revenge on the Penguins by beating them convincingly twice in the space of 11 days. December was also impressive, and the Leafs headed into 2023 with a 23-8-6 record.

Auston Matthews Continues to Shine

Auston Matthews

Goals win you hockey games, and this Maple Leafs has goals in it, not least because of the precocious talent that is Auston Matthews. The first overall pick from 2016 racks up goals at an incredible rate. He scored 40 goals during his debut season, beat that total by one in 2020-21, and scored an astonishing 60 goals last season while providing 46 assists! Matthews has scored at a slightly lesser rate this season but still has 24 goals and 47 assists from 44 games. His goal and assist in the January 3 defeat against the St. Louis Blues took Matthews to 501 career points for the Leafs in 445 games, setting a new franchise record.

Mitch Marner and William Nylander finished with more than 30 goals each last year and are on course for similar figures this time. As are John Tavares and Michael Bunting. You can trouble any team in the NHL when you have the firepower that the Maple Leafs possess.

Keeping the opposition off the scoresheet is equally crucial to scoring goals. In Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov, the Maple Leafs have two talented goaltenders performing at a high level. Coach Keefe has split the duo’s time on the ice almost evenly, and neither player has let their side down. Samsonov has conceded ten fewer goals than Murray, but both are saving more than 91% of the shots they face, which is precisely what you want your goalie to do!

Can the Maple Leafs challenge for the Stanley Cup this year? You would certainly think so because they are playing well and have a stellar forward line that strikes fear into opposition players’ hearts. Anything is possible if they can break the jinx of losing in the first round of the playoffs.

Other articles from mtltimes.ca – totimes.ca – otttimes.ca

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