With another point in hand after a shootout loss against the Wild, the Leafs find themselves in a relatively unusual position. They are sitting close to the top of the overall standings in the Eastern Conference, now fully 18 games into the regular season. (With two games upcoming this weekend, I should add, against the struggling Sabres—though Ted Nolan’s arrival behind the bench will ensure the Buffaloes are no longer a team to be taken lightly…)
With 23 points, even the most optimistic fan would surely not have forecast that point total at this stage before the season got underway. And this, despite some significant injuries and suspensions, being outshot many nights (again in Minnesota) and a propensity for playing without the puck way more than successful teams generally should.
Yes, much of their ‘success’ was generated through an auspicious start in early October, but they have avoided prolonged slumps—at least in terms of results. Bernier continues to provide stellar netminding, and so has Reimer. Reilly returned after his game off to help create Raymond’s opening scoring salvo Wednesday night. Special teams rebounded with a stellar effort, including a shut out of the Wild on power play opportunities that totaled 13 minutes.
Kadri had an even more eventful evening than usual, including an assist on the Leaf goal; a crease collision that knocked Backstrom out of the game and a hit on Granlund that sent Nazem to an early shower. (At least he got the hot water in the shower after the game. By the way, the first guy I heard use that one was longtime Red Wing announcer Buff Lynch back in the 1960s, after a Detroit player had been tossed from a game after a fight. I was listening to the game on the radio and thought that was a great line at the time. I'd never heard it before. Maybe humour was simpler back then...)
It looked as though the Leafs’ ‘bend but don’t break’ defensive approach would be sufficient in this one. (I’m not sure that is Carlyle’s philosophy or intent, but it is the way things seem to unfold many nights.) But we were felled by a broken breakout and an odd goal. On Minnesota’s late-game marker, the Leafs had two forwards back in their own crease area working to prevent a scoring chance, but an unfortunate bounce provided the home side with a tally they didn’t have to work too hard for. (By the way, can we “blame” our defensemen for being up ice so aggressively before the puck had cleared our zone, as they were protecting a slim 1-0 lead? I’ll leave that to the paid analysts to determine…)
In any event, I will wait until we hit one of the key mileposts along the NHL regular-season “track” that is always important to me—the 20-game mark, to provide a bit more of a breakdown of where I feel this club is at. But for now, I have a simple question for you: beyond their win-loss record and where they sit in the standings, are you satisfied with how the squad is playing so far this season?