BY: ADAM HALBERSTADT
Sitting amidst the top of the cluttered pack in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves in a favourable position 24 games into the season.
Led by opportune scoring and a lineup filled with blistering speed, the Leafs have done exactly what many believed they needed to do in order to end seven years of playoff futility – get off to a hot start.
There have certainly been ups and downs throughout the initial stage of the 2011-2012 campaign, but perhaps the best sign of things to come is the fact that there have only been a few games in which the argument can be made that the Maple Leafs did not put forth a valiant effort.
And when you consider that these games came against the defending Stanley Cup champs, all is generally well in Leaf land.
Kessel leads the NHL in goals and points, but back-to-back games against the Bruins should prove to be a big test for the 24-year-old.
Riding an October that saw the Leafs vault to the top of the NHL standings with Phil Kessel exploding out of the gate, the Leafs have cooled off considerably in November, but have played well enough to remain competitive as of late, winning four of their last five and riding a three game winning streak to end the month. For a team that has been decimated with injuries over the past few weeks – including a mysterious injury to goaltender James Reimer – hanging in with the pack is all they can ask for.
In large part, this unforeseen success can be attributed to the fact that Phil Kessel refuses to level with inconsistency, something that has often plagued him in his young career. Add in a linemate in Joffrey Lupul that finds himself tied for second in NHL scoring, and suddenly the Leafs possess the type of first line they’ve been desperately searching for over the last five years. And as bodies continue to drop, as was the case in Dallas on Friday when the Leafs lost David Steckel and Carl Gunnarsson to injury, the depth of the organization continues to show its true colours as each AHL call-up is as NHL ready as the last.
Say what you want about the team and its schedule, few people expected the Maple Leafs to be anywhere near the top of the Eastern Conference heading into December, and even fewer expected two of the NHL’s top five scoring leaders to emerge from the city of Toronto this late into the season. Not since Doug Gilmour and Dave Andreychuck have the Leafs boasted the offensive firepower that it does so far this season.
The Leafs have been able to maintain a respectable 10-8-1 record since Reimber went down on Oct. 22nd
Most pundits in today’s league will tell you that American Thanksgiving marks the point in the year when you can truly identify what a team is made up of. Currently at the quarter mark of the season, the Leafs continue to impress on a nightly basis, utilizing foot speed and an aggressive forecheck to win the battles that are necessary to win hockey games. With their number one goaltender set to return in the near future, this Leafs squad seems poised to make believers out of the many that may have doubted them at the beginning of the year.
With continued improvements on the power play and the penalty kill, as well as a return to the crease for James Reimer, the Maple Leafs are no longer concerned with which playoff team they are going to knock out from a season ago.
For the teams on the outside looking in, and two months in the books, it’s now up to them to figure out how to catch the Toronto Maple Leafs
Sounds great for once, doesn’t it?
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