We are close to a quarter of the way through the 2017-18 National Hockey League regular season and the top Canadian team in the NHL at the moment is the Toronto Maple Leafs. At 12-7, the Maple Leafs are in second place in the Atlantic Division with 24 points. Yes, they are six points back of the Tampa Bay Lightning for first in the division, and will have a tough time trying to catch Tampa Bay, but the fact that Toronto has the second best record in the Eastern Conference and third most points in the entire NHL, is something Leafs Nation should be excited about.
However what Leafs Nation should be jumping up and down about the most is that Toronto has now won three straight games without their top player, Auston Matthews, who is out with an upper body injury. How many teams have been able to accomplish that feat over the last while? The Pittsburgh Penguins could ill afford Sidney Crosby and the Edmonton Oilers could ill afford Connor McDavid. That is for sure.
So how have the Maple Leafs gone 3-0 without Matthews in beating the Minnesota Wild 4-2 and then the Boston Bruins 3-2 and 4-1 in back-to-back nights this past weekend?
- Great goaltending. Maple Leafs might have expected solid netminding from Fredrik Andersen, who made 35 saves in 37 shot attempts in a win over the Wild and 33 saves in 35 shot attempts in a 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins. However, getting a quality start from backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney, who beat the Bruins’ number one goaltender Tuukka Rask on Saturday 4-1, was two points the Maple Leafs might not have expected to get. McElhinney completely outplayed Rask as he had 38 saves on 39 shots, while Rask only made 21 saves on 24 shots.
- Goal scoring from Patrick Marleau. Heading into the season, there were questions where Marleau would fit into the lineup and how and where he would be able to fit in with all of the young Maple Leafs forwards. At 38 years old, Marleau is producing as he is playing alongside Zach Hyman. Marleau has scored in each of his last three games and got the overtime winner on Friday in Toronto’s 3-2 win over Boston. In watching the Sharks/Canucks game on Saturday, it was no surprise that Louie DeBrusk made reference to the fact how much San Jose misses their former captain.
- The kids are showing up. They may not be playing with outstanding consistency, but Leafs Nation should be satisfied that they are getting production from the kids. In the win over Minnesota, it was Connor Brown who had a goal and an assist. In their overtime win against the Bruins, James Van Riemsdyk and Mitch Marner each had two points as Van Riemsdyk had two goals and Marner had two assists. Then in their three goal win at TD Garden Saturday, Marner, Van Riemsdyk and Morgan Reilly each had a two point night.
There is no question that the Maple Leafs need Matthews in order to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1967. However, fans should be content that they are finding ways to win without him!