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What We Learned: Why aren’t the Maple Leafs a bigger deal?

Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have been remarkable this year, Sunday's 3-2 loss to Carolina about 17 hours after the team wrapped a game vs. Washington not withstanding.

Currently, they're tied with Buffalo for first in the Northeast, which approximately no one saw coming heading into the season, and that's remarkable enough in itself. Very few people, if any, likely had the Phil Kessel(notes) leading the league in goals and points around the quarter-pole, and certainly his play this season has been nothing short of revelatory. He scored twice more in the loss to Carolina, running his total to 16 in 21 games.

His longest streak without a point this season stands at one game, and it's happened a whopping four times. His longest goalless drought was four games (which for some preposterous reason led many to wonder if he was in a "slump").

Maybe that's just Kessel getting hot as hell right out of the gate (his shooting percentage of 21.9 is nearly double his career total), and maybe it's that he's becoming the player Toronto traded for a few years back, but it's been really quite something to watch him pile up goal after goal.

Kessel's success is the result of something even the most ardent of Leafs supporters would not have dared dream of: Joffrey Lupul's(notes) incredible emergence as a very legitimate offensive threat.

He's third in the league in scoring with 25 points in 21 games, and 10 of those are goals. He's nearly halfway to his career high in points, and more than a third of the way to his personal goals record. Wasn't this guy supposed to be a salary dump? Didn't he miss an entire year to back problems not too long ago? He picked up four points in Saturday's 7-1 romp over the Capitals.

Even Tim Connolly(notes) of all people has been surprisingly good for the Leafs as he comes off his latest injury. There was a lot of snickering about the two-year deal he signed, but in nine games this season, he has eight points and Sunday's game in Carolina was perhaps his best yet for the Leafs (compare to Ville Leino's(notes) five points in 20 games for an extra-fun laugh to share with your friends!). Dion Phaneuf(notes), too, is on pace to have his best season since 2007-08.

And all has come despite the team facing a rash of injuries.

(Coming Up: Ovechkin's apathy is poisoning the Capitals; Mark Recchi(notes) is mean to the Canucks; Stars "whine like little babies throughout the game"; Jack Capuano puts the team on blast; Nashville's city funding; the Blackhawks may want to stay out of Alberta; brilliant shortie from Mike Richards(notes); merry Sid-mas; Tyler Myers(notes) out with a bruised ego; the Ducks have meetings about being terrible; in praise of the Nuge; Duncan Keith's(notes) negative nightmare; and a very creative Kyle Turris(notes) trade.)

Obviously the loss of James Reimer(notes), the only half-decent goaltender the Leafs have had in years, has been detrimental to the club — they've won just two of their last eight — but their having won or been close in even that many with a Jonas Gustavsson(notes)/Ben Scrivens platoon speaks to the strength of the team overall.

Mikhail Grabovski(notes), who scored 29 goals and as many assists last year, got off to a slow start but has been out the last three games, and could miss about two weeks with a leg injury. Clarke MacArthur(notes), who netted 62 points last season, is also going to be out awhile.

If this were any team besides the Maple Leafs, people would be raving about their ability to continue to be competitive with that many important players out. Their having just hung seven on the Capitals, who at the time were leading their division, was chalked up to Washington being bad. The truth likely lies somewhere between that and the Leafs simply being a well-composed hockey team that can turn off-games into waking nightmares for opposing goaltenders.

Given what we've seen recently (namely, the team going 6-7-2 without Reimer), it's probably not unreasonable to assume the true measure of this team was likely far closer to the iteration seen during the first few weeks of the season when they went 7-2-1.

When they get everyone back healthy, or find a better option in net on the open market, this Maple Leafs team could very well become a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference.


What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks held a series of meetings to discuss why they're so bad. Headed into Sunday's game against Detroit, they'd won just one of their last nine. Now it's one of 10.

Boston Bruins: Things you see very rarely: Zdeno Chara(notes) picking a corner on a goal instead of just hammering it.

Buffalo Sabres: Tyler Myers is out for an indeterminate amount of time after the Sabres' loss to Phoenix on Saturday. Buffalo's being coy about the exact nature of the problem, but on the play during which Paul Bissonnette(notes) lost Myers in coverage and scored a goal, the defenseman had to have suffered a debilitating injury to his ego.

Calgary Flames: What's wrong with Jarome Iginla(notes)? A lot of things, actually. For example, he's 34 years old.

Carolina Hurricanes: In case you needed to be reminded, there are a lot of guys who used to be on the Leafs on the Hurricanes. And what's this? The Hurricanes are terrible? The devil you say!

Chicago Blackhawks: Chicago went up to Alberta and played two not-great hockey teams. And yet the team that was best in the league at the time of their departure got outscored 14-4.

Colorado Avalanche: The Avs don't have an identity, which "may explain why Sacco sometimes looks like a frustrated lead detective on 'CSI.'" That's why, when it comes to the standings, they're anything but a… mile high.

Columbus Blue Jackets: For those of you who may have forgotten, this is what Jeff Carter(notes) scoring a goal looks like:

Dallas Stars: Glen Gulutzan isn't happy with the number of penalties his team takes, or the amount of complaining they do about those penalties. "We whine like little babies throughout the game," he said. "I don't know if there's been a history of that here or not, but every team that I've coached, we've always been at the other end of the scale." Oof.

Detroit Red Wings Presented by Amway: Clearly taking a page from Shawn Michaels, Pavel Datsyuk(notes) has found his smile again.

Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers scored nine goals against Chicago on Saturday night, the first time they broke eight in 15 years. During the 1980s heyday of the team, they did it 52 times in nine years.

Florida Panthers: Stephen Weiss's(notes) game-winner with 3:30 to go in the game helped the Panthers beat the Penguins, earning their first home win in nearly a month. And somehow they're at the top of their division.

Los Angeles Kings: What a wonderful shortie from Mike Richards. Jiri Hudler(notes) didn't know if he was coming or going there.

Minnesota Wild: Umm how did the Minnesota Wild become the best team in the league? Apparently Mikko Koivu(notes) is making it happen. I believe it.

Montreal Canadiens: Jacques Martin has come a long way. When he started in the NHL, the first press conference to introduce him in St. Louis drew a total of 10 reporters. I bet he misses those days.

Nashville Predators: The city of Nashville gives the Preds ownership group $7.8 million a year to manage Bridgestone Arena. Starting next year, they're gonna ask the city to cut out the middle man and make it payable to Shea Weber(notes).

New Jersey Devils: The Devs went up 3-0 in the second period and the Bolts scored two a minute and a half apart to cut the lead to just one goal. Then Pete DeBoer called a timeout and the Devils got it together to scrounge out a win. Players said the decision had a direct impact on the outcome of the game. Good coaching there.

New York Islanders: Another coach who put his team on blast this weekend is Jack Capuano but to be fair to the boys in the room, anyone who thought the Islanders wouldn't be pretty bad this year given their goaltending situation wasn't paying much attention.

New York Rangers: The Rangers lost so I am pretty sure this means Brad Richards(notes) and Olivia Munn broke up.

Ottawa Senators: The Sens went on a road trip to Western Canada and nearly swept it, which would have been the first time they ever did so. Instead they lost in overtime to the Canucks last night and settled for seven points from their last four games. So disappointing.

Philadelphia Flyers: This might be the all-time low-light of Chris Pronger's(notes) career, eh?

Phoenix Coyotes: Tonight's Coyotes/Caps game looks pretty winnable for Phoenix, which hopes to wrap its lengthy five-game road trip with eight of a possible 10 points. Putting Bissonnette on the top line might help make it happen.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Merry Sidmas, everyone.

San Jose Sharks: Through Saturday night's game, the Sharks' PK was dead last in the NHL. At just 73.2 percent. That almost doesn't seem like it should be possible, right?

St. Louis Blues: For some reason, the Blues keep succeeding under Ken Hitchcock. Despite losing in a shootout to Minnesota on Saturday, they're 4-0-2 under their new coach. (And hey, only five of those were at home!)

Tampa Bay Lightning: When Marty St. Louis drops to one knee for a shot, he also drops out of sight from the human eye.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs announced that Mike Komisarek(notes) will be out eight weeks at least after suffering a broken arm in Nashville on Thursday. Everyone on the team is injured except Phil Kessel, and yet it almost doesn't matter most of the time.

Vancouver Canucks: Mark Recchi sure is mean to the Canucks. What a big meanie. Alain Vigneault has a good mind to go to the principal with this one.

Washington Capitals: "Ovechkin's disinterest, it seemed, trickled down to everyone else on the roster." Umm, wow. Trade Ovechkin, I guess?

Winnipeg Jets: If you didn't roll your eyes at the headline in this article, you are from Manitoba. They're 8-9-3 with losses to Ottawa and Columbus. They're not a team waiting to break through. Get a grip.

Gold Star Award

What We Learned: Why aren’t the Maple Leafs a bigger deal?

How about the Nuge hangin' five assists on Chicago? Kid has 19 points in as many games. Unbelievable.

Minus of the Weekend

What We Learned: Why aren’t the Maple Leafs a bigger deal?

Duncan Keith was a minus-8 in two Chicago losses this weekend. Yikes.

Play of the Weekend

Man do the Bruins get up-ice in a hurry on this play.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User "sdbullet" wants to ease Don Maloney's mind.

Nashville gets: Kyle Turris
Phoenix gets: Cory Schneider(notes)
Vancouver gets: Patric Hornqvist(notes)

This makes so much sense.

Signoff

What is this? Why don't I own this?

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness rather infrequently over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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