Eleven games into the 2013 NHL season, the Toronto Maple Leafs currently sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with a 6-5-0 record, good enough for 12 points.
With a minus -3 goals for/against differential, the Maple Leafs are hardly dominating their opponents, but they are hanging in their in the tough Eastern Conference which figures to see the top-eight teams come down to the wire.
As it stands right now, five teams are sitting with nine points on the season, placing them just one point behind the eighth place Carolina Hurricanes.
With a 48-game season, every game is a playoff game. Toronto will have to improve greatly on their 1-4-0 Home Record, which is the worst in the NHL to this point in the season. That said, the Maple Leafs have put together an excellent 5-1-0 record on the Road, which is shocking considering their sub-par Home record.
Thought to be miles away from securing a full-time roster spot with the Maple Leafs as late as this fall, Nazem Kadri leads all forwards with nine points on the season and a respectable plus-3 rating. Matt Frattin (eight points), Phil Kessel (seven points) and off-season acquisition James van Riemsdyk round out the Leafs’ top-four scoring forwards, while Cody Franson (four points), John-Michael Liles (four points) and Michael Kostka represent the Buds top-three scoring defensemen.
Missing from the Maple Leafs top-performers list are captain Dion Phaneuf (one point, minus-7 rating) and a pair of players that have been injured most of the season in Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner.
While the losses of Lupul and Gardiner have hurt the Maple Leafs in the standings, they can take solace in the fact that players like Kadri, Frattin and Franson have stepped up their games.
Meanwhile, goaltender James Reimer appears to be finding his form, compiling a 4-3 record in seven starts while posting a respectable 2.61 goals against average and a .918 save percentage.
With Lupul expected to miss another four-to-six weeks and Gardiner still struggling with concussion issues, the Maple Leafs will have to rely on their unsung hero’s to continue to move the needle in the Eastern Conference standings.
A better effort offensively from Nikolai Kulemin (one goal in 11 games) and Phil Kessel (one goal in 11 games) will be integral to the Maple Leafs success. Both players have the potential to score 30 goals in an 82-game season, both have been snake bitten early on this season.
The Maple Leafs will also need to clean up their penalty kill, which is currently ranked 24th (75 percent success rate) and their power play, which has fizzled to a 12.96 percent success rate (25th overall) after finishing at a 18.35 percent success rate (10th overall) in 2011-12.
Unlike seasons past, the roster looks to have bought into head coach Randy Carlyle’s defensive system, with incoming forwards Leo Komarov and Jay McClement and defenseman Carl Gunnarsson playing major roles.
The defensive pairing of Dion Phaneuf and Michael Kostka (a combined minus-13 rating) will have to clean up their games, as will forward Tyler Bozak, who currently sits at a minus-4 rating.
There are still plenty of question marks throughout the Maple leafs lineup, but with a little tweaking and some good luck in the health department it appears as if the Blue and White are on the right track.