Here we are — 21 games into the 2016-17 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs have reached the quarter mark of the season. With this season being the first step on the Leafs’ road back to contention, how is it going so far?
Well, let’s first look at their record. After 21 games, they are 9-8-4. Looking at the same point last season, there is already an improvement. In the 2015-16 season, they were 7-10-4 after 21 games. It might only be two more wins, but when you consider that this team is much younger than the one that the Leafs iced most of last season, it becomes more impressive.
That record includes a tremendous 8-3 record at home. With two of those losses being to the Los Angeles Kings and the Tampa Bay Lightning, it makes the record look even better. Those are two teams that Leafs should be having trouble against. Let’s leave out for now that the Leafs barely showed up in both of those games for now.
On the other side of the coin is their road record, which currently stands at 1-5-4. Only one team has a worse record on the road and that’s the New York Islanders, whose record is 1-6-1 away from the Barclay’s Center. It’s not likely, but if the Leafs have any hope of making the playoffs this season, they need to perform better when they’re not at the Air Canada Centre.
Let’s start with Frederik Andersen. He struggled to begin the season, but then again most of the team did. Fans and media alike got on the Dane’s case for his performance and there was talk that the Leafs had gotten their hands on yet another goalie that looked good in California but failed in Toronto. Well, that stopped as the calendar hit November.
His record now stands at 9-6-3 and he has a save percentage of .911. That’s about middle-of-the-pack in the NHL out of goalies that have played at least 15 games. Sure, it’s not that impressive but he is improving and he should get better as the team in front of him gets better.
When it comes to the defense, that is where the Leafs need the most work. Martin Marincin has fallen out of favor and has been a healthy scratch recently. Matt Hunwick hasn’t been much better and seems to be in the lineup solely because Mike Babcock likes him.
On the plus side, Nikita Zaitsev has acclimated himself to the NHL game pretty well and hasn’t looked out of place. Morgan Rielly hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire offensively but still has 12 points in 21 games. The one sad thing is that Frankie Corrado has once again found himself stuck in the press box.
Now we get to the cream of the crop: The forwards. Auston Matthews looked great in his very first game with four goals. Of course, then came the 13-game goal drought. More than a few questions were asked about him and his struggles. Of course, he finally scored and had a two-goal game against New Jersey followed up by another goal against Washington. So it looks like he’ll turn out okay.
Going into the season, there was at least a little doubt that Mitch Marner would be ready for the NHL. He has all but abolished that doubt.
With seven goals and 11 assists for 18 points, he is tied with Patrik Laine for the rookie lead in points. Matthews is only one point behind them. Two points behind Matthews is William Nylander with 15 points. All in all, the Leafs have their three young stars in three of the top five spots in rookie scoring. If you look even further, Connor Brown and Zaitsev are both in the top 20.
All this talk about the rookies has disguised the Leafs veterans. James van Riemsdyk is quietly tied for the lead in Leafs scoring and is leading them in goals. Nazem Kadri is quickly becoming a good shutdown center, which seems odd looking at what the Leafs drafted him for. The line of Kadri alongside Leo Komarov and Nikita Soshnikov is probably one of the most annoying lines in the NHL to play against.
With all that said, it has a been a pretty good first quarter of the season for the Maple Leafs. They currently stand three points out of a playoff spot and if they stay around that spot, it should be a really interesting rest of the season.