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Leafs flourish (temporarily?) while others struggle early; it still counts

Before I get into today’s post, a quick note to new visitors of Vintage Leaf Memories.  I invite you to check out some of the different posts on this site, from my many recollections and stories on Leaf greats like Dave Keon, Johnny Bower, Frank Mahovlich, Andy Bathgate and others to all-time hockey legends such as “Rocket” Richard, Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull and Bobby Orr.  The site seems to keep growing, with regular visitors now from more than 80 countries around the world.

It’s always great when regular visitors become “followers”— and also to hear from readers at who can contact me at  Thanks for visiting.

Maybe as significant as the fact that the Leafs have garnered 9 out of a possible 10 points (shades of 1993-’94) in the early stages of this NHL season, is that so many of the teams they are jockeying with are struggling.

We can all access the numbers:

o       New Jersey with 3 points in 6 games
o       Rangers with 3 points in 4 games
o       Philly 5 points in 5 games
o       Ottawa has 3 points in 6 games
o       Florida 4 points in 4 games

Now, it’s clear that this can change rather dramatically in a week.  But whether these early-season results will become trends or not, some things are evident:  there are a number of Eastern Conference teams that have issues.

For example, I just don’t see New Jersey as a serious factor any longer.  No depth and too much money invested in one moody, albeit extremely talented guy in Kovalchuk.  Ottawa is already admitting they want to make trades (ouch) to move guys out.  If Ryan Miller follows his pattern in Buffalo, he will have a middlish season on the heels of a brilliant one.  And he’s usually the main reason they remain very competitive every other year.  I can see Carolina struggling.  I’d like to like Atlanta, they look “improved”, but their history makes me think they still don’t have the success formula just yet.

Montreal barely made the playoffs last season, and I’m not sure they are significantly better this time around.  Boston is hard to figure, but my guess is Tim Thomas may just surprise people and be a factor and rebound well after a tough season—though ex-Leaf draft choice Rask is still their future in goal.

Washington and the Pens are legit, though not without questions.  I believe the Flyers will still be competitive.  But the Leafs have nothing to fear in the Rangers, and it’s too early to tell about the Islanders and the Panthers, though neither should be the reason the Leafs don’t jump up in the standings.  (I’m among those who believe General Manager Dale Tallon will make the Panthers a better team over time, but as in Chicago, it will take a bit of time.)

More importantly than how other teams are playing, is how the Leafs are playing.  Everyone recognizes that regular season hockey pales compared with the intensity of playoff hockey.  But the Leafs, for the first time since what, 2004, actually look to be a team that could be in the playoff “mix”.  So no one is worrying about April right now.  It’s something that the Leafs are competitive at this time of year.

Playing with speed with do that.  Decent goaltending will do that, as will effective penalty-killing.  They are healthy compared with many Eastern teams who have already been felled by serious injuries.  All this conspires nicely to make the Leafs a threat to be a team that may actually win more than they lose as the season progresses.

Am I surprised?  So far, yes.  I did not see on the roster the depth I thought was needed down the middle, or on the wings. But if they continue to be hard to score against, speed, grit and confidence may go a long way.

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