Why the Toronto Maple Leafs Are the Best Team in the East

Toronto Maple Leafs

It’s relatively quiet in Leafs land. That’s because the Toronto Maple Leafs are finally playing to their expectations and things tend to be calm and quiet when Toronto is playing well. The Maple Leafs have won three games in a row and are now 6-1-3 in their last 10 games.

After a 4-2-0 start to the season, Toronto lost four games in a row on a West Coast road trip and never really seemed to get back on track. A favorite to win the Stanley Cup this season, the Toronto Maple Leafs dealt with injuries and inconsistent play, leading to questions about the status of head coach Sheldon Keefe.

What a difference a few weeks have made. As of November 28, the Toronto Maple Leafs ranked fourth in the NHL with 31 points in 23 games. They’re right where everyone expected them to be, despite all that has gone wrong this season. Perhaps this is finally the year they win a round in the playoffs and possibly even contend for the Stanley Cup.

Star Power on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Offense

The Maple Leafs have the second-best 1-2 punch on offense in the league with Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews. Some might even argue they’re better than Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers. What’s most impressive about the Leafs recent stretch is that they’ve done it while Matthews has struggled to find the back of the net.

Matthews, last year’s Hart Trophy winner, is third on the team with 24 points and has just 10 goals. John Tavares and William Nylander, in comparison, have 12 goals each. Matthews has a 10.2 shooting percentage, which is the lowest in his career, and hasn’t looked as dynamic as he has in the past.

Marner has picked up the slack, leading the team with 27 points. Tavares and Nylander, who began the year on the same line, have 25 and 24 points, respectively. The Maple Leafs lack offensive depth – only one other forward (Michael Bunting) has more than 10 points – but they’ll be fine if their stars keep playing as well as they have.

Defensive Depth Has Been Tested

What’s most impressive about the Leafs’ recent run is the fact they’ve been playing well without Morgan Rielly, who is unquestionably the team’s best defenseman and leads all players with 23:00 minutes of ice time per game.

Justin Holl, whom Leafs fans wanted traded early in the season, has responded well in Rielly’s absence. Swedish blueliners Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Lillegren have also played well with added responsibility and minutes.

Toronto is also without Jake Muzzin, Jordie Benn, and TJ Brodie on defense. Muzzin may be out for the season, but they’ll have a strong looking defense once Brodie and Benn return.

Improved Goaltending

General manager Kyle Dubas took a huge risk going into the season with Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov as the Toronto Maple Leafs two goaltenders yet, despite injuries, it looks like his gamble paid off. Murray has been quite good in Toronto’s last three wins and is now 4-1-1 with a 2.51 GAA and .921 save percentage. Samsonov, who is out with a knee injury, is 6-2-0 with a 2.23 GAA and .921 save percentage.

Jack Campbell, whom the Leafs let walk in free agency, is 7-5-0 with a 4.04 GAA and .875 save percentage with the Edmonton Oilers.

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