The Toronto Maple Leafs have come out of the gates fast this season. The team sits atop the Eastern Conference with a 6-1 record. For a comparison, last season through seven games, the Leafs’ record was 2-2-3. Their sixth win would not come until November 11th, a 6-3 thumping of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Let’s take a closer look at six factors that have driven the Leafs’ success early on.
Factors Driving The Toronto Maple Leafs Hot Start
Auston Matthews has continued to wow the league, but that should go without saying.
The 20-year old sophomore has netted six goals through the Leafs’ first seven games, with five goals at even strength.
I have no idea how he does this….
Matthews makes it 3-1. pic.twitter.com/xMlaMn60Sr
— Flintor (@TheFlintor) October 19, 2017
That release is… something.
Matthews has also scored two game-winners in overtime, good for ten career game-winning goals already. While he is shooting at an absurd 31.6% right now, Matthews’ consistency early on has been arguably as impressive as his four-goal explosion to open last season.
The Vets Are Alright, Too
While some Leafs veterans, like Tyler Bozak, have been slow out of the gate, others have been contributing at a high level.
Consider Nazem Kadri. Coming off of a career year that saw him put up 32 goals and 61 points, Kadri has shown up ready to play. He’s notched four goals and four assists through his first seven games. He’s also opened up the scoring on two occasions, against the Jets and the Red Wings.
Nazem Kadri 🚀 1-0 pic.twitter.com/snRhKPd0LX
— Flintor (@TheFlintor) October 18, 2017
Even James van Riemsdyk, whose line has been criticised for their defensive issues, has potted four goals early on. If he continues to produce, he looks poised to give the Leafs a tough decision to make as he approaches UFA status.
The Power Play is hot, and the PK is steady.
The Leafs’ Power Play has been firing on all cylinders early on, shooting a sky-high 30% through seven games (league average is 18.98%).
Meanwhile, the Penalty Kill has been operating at a clip of 83.33%, just above the league average of 81.02%. Steady contributions from new additions Eric Fehr and Ron Hainsey have worked well with established PK stalwarts Zach Hyman and Leo Komarov to keep Leafs in check shorthanded.
It’s come as no surprise that the Leafs are one of the deeper teams in the league.
On what other teams could a rookie standout who scored 61 points be demoted to the fourth line without the team missing a beat?
Despite Mitch Marner‘s struggles and the fact that William Nylander has only potted two goals (one empty-net) early on, the Leafs continue to serge. Depth contributions from other Leaf sophomores Zach Hyman and Connor Brown (3 goals apiece) have shown that when the goals have gone a little dry for the big names, others are ready to step up.
Connor Brown scores a prototypical hard-work goal to put the Leafs up 1-0 over Washington in the third period pic.twitter.com/sLz8wiYlcC
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) October 18, 2017
When the Leafs announced that they’d be paying Nikita Zaitsev $4.5 Million per year for the next seven years, many were skeptical, to say the least.
Then there was the $6 Million over 2 years for the aforementioned Hainsey.
The Leafs’ top four, however, has looked worthy of their paychecks early on. Some might disagree, considering the Leafs are still 23rd in the league in Goals Against / 60 at 2.85 according to Corsica, but the Leafs D-core has been playing to their strengths; driving the offense.
Jake Gardiner looks offensively poised. Nikita Zaitsev has looked more confident scoring two early goals to kick off the season. With Connor Carrick able to slide down onto the third pair with Hainsey now in the mix, the Leafs’ defence has — even if just in flashes — shown the potential to make more noise moving forward on the offensive end.
FREDDY – STILL STEADY?
Okay, this one does get a little more controversial.
It’s no lie that Frederik Andersen’s .899 save percentage through six games is nothing to write home about. But Freddie has come up clutch on a couple of vital occasions early on in this season. Plus, coming off a shutout, he appears to be rounding back into form.
Remember, it was Andersen who kept the Leafs in the game after taking three early penalties in their season opener against the Jets. He shut the door with a 9.46 save percentage as the Jets went 0-8 on the Power Play. Lose your first game, and a still-young team might tense up a little.
In Andersen’s most recent game, he was steady as could be, stopping all 30 shots he faced for his first shutout of the season. Andersen’s first shutout last year was not until December 22nd, the 22nd game of the season.
If Andersen can come up both clutch and consistent while the forwards keep firing, the Leafs are poised for a big year.
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