Bit-by-bit and inch-by-inch, the Toronto Maple Leafs are causing an increased amount of consternation among hockey’s advanced statistics community. That process continued with their 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild Tuesday in Toronto – and while there’s lots of hockey left to play, it’s getting harder for the skeptics to deny GM Dave Nonis & Co. have assembled themselves a nifty little NHL team that could do some damage in the Eastern Conference this season.
Yeah, the Leafs have been constantly outshot and were again against Minnesota, managing only 14 shots on net. But they capitalized on their chances when they had to. That’s the hallmark of a good team. They’ve managed to put together a 6-1-0 record despite not having key off-season free agent signing David Clarkson available in any of those games.
Against the Wild, they were missing leading scorer James van Riemsdyk, but that didn’t matter either. They got goals from an American League call-up (Trevor Smith), the oft-maligned Tyler Bozak and two from Mason Raymond, arguably the most value-rich summertime signing of any team. They got an outstanding performance from goalie James Reimer, who had been living in the shadow of Jonathan Bernier and hadn’t played in 10 days, yet still turned aside all but one of the Wild’s 38 shots.
To be fair, the Leafs have looked calamitous at times in their own zone. Their young defensemen can skate for days and contribute offense – the pairing of Cody Franson and Morgan Rielly combined for four assists – but there are bound to be some painful lessons for them that are still to come.
But you know what? In a decidedly mediocre East, the Blue & White have got a good thing going. They’re fast, talented and don’t shy away from contact. The battle between Bernier and Reimer is paying dividends. They’re going to get Clarkson and van Riemsdyk back soon enough.
And guess what? They’ve got more points than any other team right now. You can laugh or pretend this is a Cinderella moment waiting for its pumpkin to return, but right now, whether you like it or not, you've got to give the Leafs credit.