The Toronto Maple Leafs awoke Friday morning to find they were in first place, not just in their division or conference, but overall in the NHL.
And that’s a first, at least in the past 12 years.
At 9-3-1, the Leafs already have as many wins as they did on Dec. 4 a year ago and are on pace for a 120-point season. (Not bad considering the franchise’s high is 103.)
But it’s pretty early for projections – and some areas of their game have been far better than others.
Toronto’s top guns have been dominant. The Leafs lead the NHL in shooting percentage at 12.9 per cent and are third overall in goals scored with 3.38 a game.
Two players have contributed the most to that. Entering Friday’s games, Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul were ranked first and tied for third in the league in goals and points.
Both are on pace for career years and, while not known for their defensive play, are tied as the NHL’s plus-minus leaders.
Everything is going in at the moment and that more than anything has been the driving force behind Toronto’s charge up the standing.
The blueline has been a mixed bag. Captain Dion Phaneuf, who leads the team in ice time, has been terrific, but others such as Luke Schenn and Cody Franson have struggled and fallen down the depth chart.
The good news is that the Leafs are getting plenty of offence from their D, as they have put up 36 points – putting them on pace for 60-per-cent more than the 139 they had all of last season. Getting the defence more involved up the ice has been a big focus for the coaching staff and that’s shown on the scoreboard.
Toronto is also, however, being out-shot by more than five shots a game and the penalty kill remains one of the worst in the league.
Given the Leafs have had to use three netminders already – with starter James Reimer out with concussion-like symptoms – it hasn’t been all that bad.
Between Reimer, Jonas Gustavsson and Ben Scrivens, Toronto has a .904 team save percentage, putting the Leafs in the bottom 10 in the league and dead on where they finished last season.
That number has been trending up, however, since Gustavsson’s shaky first three appearances.
CAN IT LAST?
Let’s put it this way: If they maintained it all year, the Leafs current goals-a-game pace would be one of the highest of any team since the 2004-05 lockout.
They won’t – and when the goals dry up a little, some of their other issues will show more prominently in their record.
What this start has definitely done, however, is make a playoff spot more likely, as they’ve already banked 19 of the 92-plus points they’ll need come April.Report Typo/Error