Monday, October 9th, 2017. Mark the date down as the day the Toronto Maple Leafs transformed from being a good young team, to becoming a good team. The Toronto Maple Leafs coming from behind in the third period against the Chicago Blackhawks solidified themselves as not just a team on the horizon, but as a premiere team in the NHL, one that deserves more credit than it receives, and one that has all of the capabilities to live up to high expectations.
The Toronto Maple Leafs should be considered as a team destined to make a Stanley Cup run, because the team features a common component in teams that have success come playoff time: extreme depth up front. The Toronto Maple Leafs lines one to four are the strongest in the NHL today.
Starting with line one, the Maple Leafs are able to roll-out one of the hardest workers and most versatile players in Zach Hyman. Centring the line is future captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the best player the franchise has seen to date since Doug Gilmour with Auston Matthews, and also featured on the line is a player who often is not given enough credit for his contributions, William Nylander. Line two features an excellent combination of youth energy (Mitch Marner) and veteran prowess (James Van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak) while also incorporating a strong blend of speed and scoring. Line three highlights the Maple Leafs ability to be a difficult matchup for opponents. Mike Babcock has shown that he is not afraid to pin the Leafs third line which is centred by Nazem Kadri against teams top lines. Look no further than the approach the Babcock has taken in the past when the Washington Capitals come to town.
The fourth line of Toronto may be the tipping point. The line features a pair of veterans in Matt Martin and Eric Fehr, while also including Connor Brown, who on any other team last year is that teams best rookie. Brown is another player who is capable of playing well in both ends of the ice and displayed his offensive capabilities last season when he recorded 20 goals. Toronto’s ability and flexibility in terms of their personnel up front makes them a clear cut contender to make a long post-season run.
While Toronto’s flashy offense often dominates the storylines, what can not be ignored is the strong play the team has received between the pipes since Frederik Andersen arrived. Through 66 games last season, Andersen posted a .918 SV% which was better than goalies such as: Tuukka Rask, Henrik Lundqvist, Ben Bishop, and Jake Allen. Andersen last season made the second most saves in the NHL last season with 1,883. While Andersen’s start to this season has been a little shaky (10 goals allowed in three games) he has kept the Maple Leafs in every game so far while giving the team a chance to win. For a team as talented offensively as the Leafs, that is all they need to remain competitive against the leagues most elite competition.
Trailing one of the league’s best teams by two goals in the third period on Monday night, it was almost expected of the Leafs to lose too the Blackhawks and remain one of the leagues best young teams. Instead, the Toronto Maple Leafs did not fall victim, but became the aggressors. Goals by Connor Brown and James Van Riemsdyk forced the game to overtime, and in the extra frame it was the player who commands the puck be on his stick in big situations, Auston Matthews scoring the game-winning goal. The moment Matthews tickled the twine became an identity creating moment for this team. The Toronto Maple Leafs became elite.