The Toronto Maple Leafs have overcome a lot of adversity this season. Knowing what the team has been through, it is beyond remarkable that the Leafs sit in 2nd place in the Eastern Conference through 24 games this season.
Due to a combination of injuries, suspensions, and healthy scratches, the Maple Leaf line-up in Sunday’s 5-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks was drastically different than the team we watched defeat Montreal 2-0 in the season-opener back on October 6th. The result was the same, but the starting roster could not have been more different. Only 13 of the 20 players on Sunday’s starting roster suited up for the Leafs in the season-opener: Schenn, Phaneuf, Dupuis, Lupul, Liles, Rosehill, Frattin, Kulemin, Bozak, Gardiner, Kessel, Grabovski and Gustavsson. Missing from Sunday’s game were season-openers: Komisarek, Armstrong, Lombardi, Brown, Steckel, Gunnarsson, and Reimer (their replacements: Franson, Connolly, MacArthur, Colborne, Crabb, Aulie, Scrivens).
Of course injuries are a part of NHL hockey and no team is able to escape a season without some significant injuries. Toronto has triumphed thus far against a stacked deck with several key and lengthy injury spells. Their number one goaltender, James Reimer, hasn’t seen NHL action since the 6th game of the season. Since Reimer went down, the Leafs have battled their way to an impressive 10-8-1 record!
Toronto owes a huge share of their early success to three individuals who (thus far) have managed to avoid the injury bug. Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, and Dion Phaneuf have undoubtedly been Toronto’s three best players this season and are all en route to career years.
First there’s Phil Kessel who leads the entire league in NHL scoring with 31 points. Currently mired in a three-game goal scoring “slump”, the sniper has not gone more than one game without scoring a point. He just so happens to be first in the league in goal-scoring too (16).
Joffrey Lupul has been the biggest surprise so far this year. Unbelievably Lupul is currently in a tie for 2nd place in overall league scoring with 29 points. Here’s a guy who hasn’t played in a full NHL season since 2008-09 and he’s on pace not just to beat but to shatter his career highs in goals (28 in 05-06) and points (53 in 05-06). Joffrey is getting it done at both ends of the ice and has a team-best +7 to show for it.
Dion Phaneuf is finally silencing all of the critics and is truly leading the Leafs. Phaneuf has racked up 18 points (5th best among league defensemen) and he’s been shutting down the opposition on a nightly basis. He’s playing with a newfound confidence and is an offensive threat every time he rushes the puck.
Toronto Maple Leaf fans are anxiously awaiting the return of goaltender James Reimer. There might not need to be such a rush to get Reimes back afterall though because the team sure seems to be doing just fine without him.
The Leafs return to action on Wednesday with a key divisional match-up against the Boston Bruins.