Leafs Finally Looking Good (For The Moment)
Last night's win by the Leafs not only continued their hot start to the season, it moved them right up to first overall in the NHL. And as of me writing this, hell had not officially frozen over.
Tied with Pittsburgh atop the standings thru 13 games, just about everything is going right for the Leafs. They boast two of the top scorers in the league, have battled through a lot of tight one goal games, the penalty kill has been terrific*, and because of the tremendous ACC crowd, have yet to lose a game.**
*I lied. Ranked dead last percentage wise, the Leafs penalty kill is a joke. This would be really alarming if the PK had been this bad for three years now. What? It has? Moving along...
**Lied again. Not a great job at all by the ACC crowd. Embarrassing would be a much better way to describe all the fake hockey fans who gobble up the best tickets but can't be bothered to actually sit in them until maybe the 15 minute mark.
The few remaining Leaf haters out there (!) might argue that Kessel and company have benefited from a borderline soft schedule, but at least credit Phil and the boys for taking advantage of it.
And credit Kessel himself, who has been dynamic and so far looks like the most dangerous offensive player in the game. Phil has traditionally been streaky as an NHL scorer, but he's never been this hot, for this long. Kessel is a serious threat to score every time he is on the ice. The puck follows him around and he creates scoring chances almost every shift.
Maybe at 24 he is mature enough to transition from streaky-young-player-with-crazy-offensive-potential, to legitimate NHL superstar.
But it hasn't just been Kessel carrying the load. Every part of the roster has contributed. Joffrey Lupul is probably playing above his head, but he has scored at this level before and he and Kessel seem to have developed great chemistry.
After a slow start the Grabovski/Kulemin/McCarthur line has started to pile up points, just as they did at times last year. Phaneuf is playing his best hockey in years and his partner Carl Gunnarson has blossomed. Rookie Jake Gardiner has been just about as good. Before going down with injury, Reimer was proving last year wasn't a fluke. Joey Crabb gets called up from the minors, scores 2 goals in 2 games, and quickly gets perhaps the best nick name in the league (King Crabb).
When you're on a roll, you're on a roll.
If you wanted to try to poke holes in the Leafs you could point to the disappointing performance Luke Schenn has turned in, obviously the PK, and the big summer trade with Nashville that has been a total bust.*
*The positive would be that Matthew Lombardi has bounced back and remained healthy so far after missing all but a handful of games last year with a concussion. Unfortunately he's put up about the same level of production as he did last year when he wasn't even in the line-up. But at least Lombardi is in the line-up, which is a lot more than you can say for Cody Franson. The other half of their return from the Predators was supposed be the bounty Toronto was rewarded with for taking on the minor albatross of a contract belonging to Lombardi. Instead Franson has been in the press box, unable to crack the line-up for all but 3 games, and is rumoured to be trade bait.
But that would be nitpicking, and after an extremely lean few years since the lockout, Leafs fans are more than ready to feel good about their team.
We'll see how long those feelings will last.