Not many things in professional sports are predictable, but I’m pretty sure Maple Leaf fans knew before last Friday's game against the Flyers that the Leafs would play a lot better than they had a few nights earlier, when the LA Kings ran over them 6-0 at the Air Canada Centre.
There was no guarantee the Leafs would win against Philadelphia, of course, but you knew that Mike Babcock was not going to allow the Leafs to play a listless game against the Flyers in front of their home fans after the less-than-stellar effort against the Kings.
And play better they did, with a number of Leafs getting on the scorecard, including Hyman and Komarov (both with their first of the season). Marner netted his fifth of the young campaign—and I suspect that a lot of Leaf followers who supported his selection in the draft a coupe of summers ago are feeling good about their instincts on that one.
Kadri continued his generally strong play; Rielly had four points, but most importantly, it was one of those games that saw everyone contribute in a bounce-back type of effort—which was certainly good to see.
That of course set up the visit to Pittsburgh—the second night of a back-to-back and on the road, to boot. How would the Leafs follow up their work from Friday night?
They started off nicely, with Hyman netting his second in two nights. But they were playing the defending Stanley Cup champions, and while on any given night the underdog can take out the champ this wasn’t any given night. Crosby and the Penguins were too much for the Leafs, outshooting them 45-35 and ultimately outscoring Toronto 4-1.
We’re probably still a few games away from where we can be a bit more comfortable making an early season assessment of just what we think the Leafs “are”. But my guess is many of you have already developed some thoughts as to whether the Leafs are meeting (or surpassing?) your expectations—at least to this point.
My question for those of you who check in on VLM this week—are you pleased with all the “kids” who have earned ice time early this season? Or, now already 15 games into the season, have any of them begun to struggle a bit in your eyes? Overall, are the Leafs tracking the way you had hoped?
Maybe most importantly, what do the Leafs still need to do to become a factor sooner than later in the Eastern Conference?