The Toronto Maple Leafs improved their 2010-11 season record to 3-0-0 on Wednesday night with a 4-3 victory over the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins. During their three game winning streak, the Leafs have also defeated their biggest Northeast Division rivals in the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators.
But with a second line made up of Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur, and a top line in which no player is over the age of 24, just how long can the Maple Leafs continue their winning streak?
Many fans are already jumping to conclusions, saying that the Maple Leafs will have a big season, make the playoffs and contend for the Stanley Cup. Although the playoffs are a possibility, the Stanley Cup is not a reality.
In order for the Maple Leafs to make the playoffs, both Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson need to remain healthy, find consistency and stay consistent. So far, Giguere has done exactly that through two games, while Gustavsson showed plenty of upside Wednesday night against Pittsburgh.
Giguere, who won the Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007, is the perfect goalie to play with Gustavsson. The 33-year-old is still a very good player in the NHL, and knows what it takes to play in the National Hockey League. Gustavsson, who played well in his rookie season, posting a goals against average of 2.87 and a save percentage of .880, can learn a few things from Giguere.
However, in order for the two to put up good numbers, they will also need some help in front of them, something the team has not improved on this season.
The Maple Leafs’ defence has allowed 71 shots against through three games, 13th best in the NHL. Last season, the Leafs allowed 2440 shots against, also 13th in the league. In order for the Maple Leafs to play better defensively, Dion Phaneuf will need to step up his game if the way he played Wednesday is any indication of his play in the future, while Tomas Kaberle, Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek will all need to keep playing the way they are, at the very least.
If there is a bright spot when it comes to the Maple Leafs defence early in the season, it’s the penalty killing unit. With a success rate of 90 percent, the Leafs are the fifth best penalty killing team in the league. Last season, the Leafs killed off just 74.6 percent of their penalties, which put them 30th in the league.
The Maple Leafs can keep playing the way they are and be successful for now, but once they start running into teams like the Washington Capitals, the defence will need to become stronger. The forwards, on the other hand, have been nothing short of impressive.
MacArthur has at least one goal in each of his three games as a Leaf so far with a total of four goals and five points, Phil Kessel has two goals and an assist, Kulemin has a goal and two assists, Grabovski has three assists and Kris Versteeg has scored one goal while adding an assist. In short, the players who are expected to put up a decent amount of points have been.
But what has gone unnoticed by a lot of fans and media members is that the Leafs have been spreading the scoring up and down the lineup.
Luke Schenn, Tim Brent and Komisarek all have two points, while Colton Orr, Mike Brown, Mike Zigomanis and Tyler Bozak each have a point. Keep in mind that the season is only three games old.
Nevertheless, if the Maple Leafs’ top line is going to become their best line, Bozak will need to start producing in order for Versteeg and Kessel to put up big numbers.
All in all, the only area to be more than normally concerned about is the defence. As long as the forwards can keep putting up the numbers they have been, the Leafs will be in good shape for another week, at least, though it is still too early to start getting excited
Now, this is not to say that it will happen, but let’s not forget, the last time the Maple Leafs started a season 3-0, in 1999, they won the division.
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