- Toronto Maple Leafs Hot Start A Sign Of Things To Come - October 13, 2017
The Toronto Maple Leafs are on a roll. It has only been four games but these high scoring, high flying Leafs are winning over the town. They are 3-1-0 to start the season. After cautious optimism last year and a surprising playoff berth the Leafs have raised expectations. Their first two home games have had fans boisterous and buzzing, a far cry from years past. It seems the young Leafs are not succumbing to a sophomore slump. Despite it being very early this season there is reason to believe the momentum will carry on throughout the 82 game schedule.
Toronto has scored 22 goals in four games, the most goals scored by the club since its inaugural season in 1917-18. This is clearly an unsustainable mark but it shows just how deep the team’s top 9 are. Adding a veteran like Patrick Marleau to a core of young elite forwards has only helped the Leafs. No matter the opponent the Leafs have a chance to win every game merely on offense alone. They can outscore any opponent they wish if given the chance. Simply outscoring teams however isn’t enough. The Leafs’ weakness last season was their defense. Despite not having a stud defender the Leafs’ defensive core improved with the addition of veteran Ron Hainsey. Youngsters Andreas Borgman and Calle Rosen haven’t looked out of place so far.
The team’s defensive lapses in the 8-5 win over the New York Rangers on Saturday left much to be desired, but Mike Babcock will get his group back on track defensively. The season is still early and players are still getting used to the new slashing and face off rules the NHL has implemented. There have been far too many penalties called so far allowing for more goals, but this will regress. The Leafs were caught napping in a 6-3 loss against New Jersey. The Devils out-skated the Leafs and were clinical while Corey Schneider made 50 saves in an unbelievable goaltending display. Losses will most definitely occur this season but this one will keep the Leafs sharp and humbled as they prepare for their next contest against fierce rival the Montreal Canadiens. The loss to the Devils also shows that one of the ways to beat these Leafs is with a similar MVP-type performance by a goalie.
The key to Toronto’s success this season will rely heavily on their big three up front: Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner. Auston Matthews has had an enormous load of pressure placed on him since draft day and despite this has looked every bit the franchise center he was made out to be. He scored 40 goals as a rookie last year and has gotten even better. His speed is a work in progress but is improving game by game. The Arizona native is a 20 year old in 30 year old body, built like an ox and is almost impossible to take the puck off of. Matthews was especially impressive against the Blackhawks. The center took control of the game and dominated after the first period.
Matthews was skating circles around Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and opposing centre Jonathan Towes, some of the best players in the world. Against those three for most of the night he had 84% possession and the Leafs outshot the Hawks in even strength shot attempts 29-3. He can pass, defend, and has one of, if not the best releases in the NHL. His elite two-way play makes him a prime candidate for the Hart trophy in the near future.