It was only a couple of weeks ago that the Toronto Maple Leafs swept the Edmonton Oilers in a dominant three-game set that allowed them to open a commanding lead in the North Division. The three games were decisive. Dominant. A prime example of how far ahead the Maple Leafs were from of the rest of the division — including the Oilers.
Things have completely flip flopped since then.
With their 4-3 loss to the Calgary Flames on Friday night, the Maple Leafs now find themselves mired in their worst slump of the season that has seen them lose three in a row and six of their past seven games. That includes dropping two out of three against Winnipeg (which has closed the gap on Toronto in the division race.
At the same time, Edmonton has responded by going 6-2 in its eight games since.
That leaves the North Division looking like this as of Friday night.
On March 4, just after Toronto won its third game in a row against Edmonton, no team in the division was within seven points of them, while Edmonton was 10 points back.
Making up that much ground in two weeks is a stunning turnaround, but it is a testament to how much the Maple Leafs have struggled.
It’s also fascinating to see what has happened at the division where Vancouver — thanks almost entirely to Thatcher Demko‘s great play — has inched its way back into the race. The big hurdle for the Canucks, though, is going to be that games played column where they have already played 34 games. Montreal, the team they are chasing, still has FOUR games in hand. By points percentage the Canucks are still a distant sixth place in the division.
But the real intrigue here is at the top of the division where Toronto, Edmonton, and Winnipeg have suddenly turned this thing into a three-team race. The Maple Leafs still have a nice points percentage cushion on the Oilers thanks to the two games in hand, but Winnipeg is suddenly right there just two points back with a game still in hand.
Something to keep in mind with Toronto at the moment is that for as bad as things look, the results are probably a lot worse than the actual play on the ice. The biggest issue is they are simply not getting any saves in net. Despite carrying the shot attempts and scoring chances during this slump, their goaltending has combined for a save percentage of just .857 in all situations. The only teams with a worse mark during that stretch are the Anaheim Ducks and Philadelphia Flyers. It is pretty difficult to win in the NHL with that level of goaltending.
Better goaltending would fix a lot of the Maple Leafs problems right now.
The concern is that Frederik Andersen has not had a particularly strong season while his production has been trending in the wrong direction for three years now. Is that a position Toronto needs to consider addressing before the trade deadline? It might be something to keep an eye on as this division continues to get closer.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.