October 16, 2010
It's hard not to be flippant about the Toronto Maple Leafs' 4-0 start, considering their record last season and the reactions from fans, media and enemies that accompany success for the Buds.
Like the sarcastic "plan the parade" jokes. Like Damien Cox telling Brian Burke he can put his available cap space in "a safe deposit box" because the Leafs are just fine as-is. Like otherwise cynical blogs like Pension Plan Puppets admitting what seemed damn near impossible before the season: "It's good to be a Leaf fan right now."
But it has been good for the fans; as good as it has been for the Leafs. Via Post Media, here's Leafs defenseman Mike Komisarek:
"The difference between last year and this year, we sort of hung on and dwelled on those losses last year and it sort of snowballed and we got ourselves into a huge hole and we couldn't dig ourselves out," said Komisarek to NHL.com. "This year, even though it's going the other way, I don't think we're sitting back and dwelling on our wins. We're focused on our next game. Things are going well. Guys are loose and guys are confident. We believe in each other. But we're not really sitting back and dwelling on our record because it's a long year."
The team improved to 4-0 with a dramatic OT victory at the New York Rangers on Friday night; and like with their other victories, there are signs this might not just be a fleeting success for Toronto this season.
Here are six reasons the Toronto Maple Leafs are an undefeated juggernaut in 2010-11.
If he had Mike Brown's mustache, they'd be writing folk songs about him in Toronto already. Instead, MacArthur will have to settle for being the NHL's leading goal-scorer entering Saturday's action with five tallies. (He's technically tied with Derek Roy(notes), but Derek Roy is not a passenger on the Maple Leafs steam train, and is thus irrelevant.)
MacArthur traditionally starts well: 4 goals in 6 games last season, 3 in 6 games the year before. Which is to say that the Leafs are streaking as he's streaking; and apologies if multiple use of the word "streaking" has conjured up images of Will Ferrell's pasty flesh from "Old School" ...
MacArthur told the National Post that he wants to flip that script this season for the Leafs:
"There's times where I'll score in five, six games in a row, and then I won't score," MacArthur said. "This year, I want to stay on a more even keel. The biggest thing with scoring goals is you have to shoot pucks. And in all the previous slumps I've had, I'm not shooting the puck. And you can't score if you don't shoot."
His streakiness was part of the reason why the Atlanta Thrashers walked away from his $2.4 million arbitration request (and win), which allowed him to sign with the Leafs. Their loss, the Leafs gain; so far, at least.
2. The Top Line
Players like MacArthur have given the Leafs something they desperately needed to succeed this season: Goals from places other than Phil Kessel's(notes) stick. Which has come in handy when the Leafs' big guns aren't firing.
Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak(notes) and Kris Versteeg(notes) haven't found a game-by-game consistency that you'd like to see from a top line; Kessel, in fact, was benched against the Pittsburgh Penguins, taking one for his ineffective line.
But they generate chances, have shown chemistry and, against the Rangers, showed they can be the best line on the ice. Kessel had two goals, with Bozak assisting on both; Kessel also set up Mike Komisarek's big second-period tally as well.
3. Timely Special Teams Play
The Leafs power play is 3-for-20, which puts it at 15 percent and not much better than last season's worst-in-the-NHL conversion rate of 14 percent. But two of those goals were clutch: MacArthur's tally to tie the Penguins on the road and Kessel's game-winner against the Rangers. Plus, like last season, the Leafs are earning their power-play chances: They're fourth in the league in power-play opportunities.
Their penalty killing has been stellar: one goal surrendered in 15 chances, and nothing on the power play from foes in the third period over four games. Full marks to Francois Beauchemin(notes), Luke Schenn(notes), Michael Zigomanis and Fredrik Sjostrom(notes), who are among the team's primary killers in ice time this season.
4. Obviously, the Early Undefeated Success of the Toronto Maple Leafs is Part of a Grand Conspiracy by the NHL to Rig the System for Gary Bettman's Confidant Brian Burke and Create Excitement in the Center of The Hockey Universe, a Market Which Remains Unchallenged by Expansion or Relocation to Ontario Thanks To the League Being Cuckolded by MLSE.
Seriously, how much did they pay you, linesman?
5. Clutch Goaltending
J.S. Giguere didn't have his legs against the Rangers, but made the saves he needed to make. Flashing back to the Leafs' game against the Montreal Canadiens, he also wasn't perfect until he needed to be perfect in the game's final moments. Ditto Jonas Gustavsson(notes) against the Pittsburgh Penguins: He surrendered three goals on 16 shots in two periods, and then stopped all nine in the third.
These guys come through when the Leafs need them. The days of Vesa ToskaLOL are over in Toronto.
6. Finally, it's an entirely different team than last season's disaster.
Check out the lineup for the Leafs in Game 4 last season:
And here's the roster last night against the Rangers:
That's a lot of change.
So Coach Ron Wilson, who has been yanked from the hot seat after a 4-0 start: Is the Leafs' best opening to a season since going 10-0 in 1993-94 satisfying? From the National Post:
"Again, we're talking about last year and it's an entirely different team," head coach Ron Wilson told reporters after the game. "If we knew what happened with the banking system, then the stock market wouldn't have crashed. It's irrelevant now."
"That's a question that my granddaughter would ask," Wilson said of whether he is pleased with the team's start. "We're 4-0 for god's sake. Of course it's satisfying. We're happy that we've gotten off to this start ... this is money in the bank for us, especially when we get into hard times."
Hard times? In what's going to be an 82-0 season? Always a jokester, that one.