Don't look now, but the Toronto Maple Leafs are the No. 1 overall team in the National Hockey League. Now, we are only one month into the season, but after 13 games, the Leafs have proven that they aren't going to go down easy.
At 9-3-1, the Leafs have a total of 19 points. If you were to say before the season that that the Leafs would be in the position they're in now, you would have been laughed out of the room. The fact is, the Leafs are in the position they're in because they have taken advantage of the chances they've been given.
Up until now, teams have been caught by surprise by the Leafs' success. With a few exceptions, the Leafs have been able to take on their opposition and come out with the valuable points in October that they hadn't gotten in past seasons. However, now that other teams have seen the Leafs succeed, they will be gunning for the Leafs and won't be so easy to beat.
November will determine whether the Leafs are pretenders or true contenders.
Judging by the Leafs' play over the last month, I am going to go with contenders. Despite the negatives, despite the injuries, the Leafs have been able to get off to their best start since the early 90s.
The Leafs are a faster team than they were last season, and it has been a big factor in their success. Players who weren't expected to perform well have helped the Leafs by exceeding those expectations, namely Mike Komisarek. Of course, the Leafs have gotten the most help from Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. Kessel is the league-leader in goals and points and Lupul has continued to silence the doubters.
Naysayers will continue to point out that the Leafs have the worst penalty kill in the league. They do, and that is a problem, but for now the Leafs are winning despite that stat, and if they continue to do so, it won't matter. Some players have disappointed, namely Cody Franson and Luke Schenn, but they are both young players and should rebound.
Even without James Reimer, the Leafs have gotten adequate goaltending from Jonas Gustavsson, and with Ben Scrivens performing the way he did Thursday night, the Leafs have three goaltenders who can all play well. However, when Reimer does eventually return, he will take back his starting role and the Leafs will be back into the form that they were in before he went down with the injury.
The Leafs have stormed out of the gate and have gotten off their best start in years. They keep this up, which I think they will, and they will make the playoffs no problem.
Is it time to take the Maple Leafs seriously? You bet it is.