The Toronto Maple Leafs have by far been the most surprising team throughout the first four games of the regular season. They are off to their best start since the 1993-94 season, in which they won their first 10 games of the season before losing to Montréal.
The recent success can be attributed to their speed and excellent goaltending. Giguère has made quality saves under pressure, which the Leafs lacked last season with Vesa Toskala. This past Friday, the Leafs were in tough against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Phil Kessel had a great game with two goals, one of which was the overtime winner.
It isn’t just the top line that is getting the job done early in the season, although Kessel, Bozak, and Versteeg have chemistry between them and make it look effortless on the ice. The big story is not the first line but the second, and more specifically Clarke MacArthur. He became the first Leaf player in history to record a goal in his first four games with the team. MacArthur spoke of the feat, saying, “I’m in the history books. It’s awesome. What an honour. Who would’ve thought that record would stand?— but I’ll put my name in there for sure.’’ MacArthur is not known as a high scorer, but head coach Ron Wilson believes that given the chance, he can surprise people. He’s been doing that so far this season.
Wilson attributes the success to the players accepting their roles on the team. The players realize that not everyone can be a sniper; some have taken diminished roles compared to last season. One player who has excelled in his role is third-liner Tim Brent. Brent has had two goals in the first four games, but more importantly has a +/- of 1. The job of a third-liner is to be hard on the fore-check, and it’s more or less a bonus if a goal is scored. Brent is thrilled, let alone content, to be playing in the NHL full-time at all.
The only problem Wilson can see thus far is the fans getting carried away. After the opening night win against Montréal, he said, “It’s one game, we’re not going to get carried away; I’m sure they’ve already planned the Stanley Cup parade.”
Leafs fans have been looking for something to cheer about since 2004, which was the last time the Leafs made an appearance to the post-season. However, if the Leafs can continue their up-tempo style of play and remain injury-free, Leafs fans will have something to cheer about when playoffs start. Tonight, they could start the season at 5-0 when they take on the Islanders at 7 p.m.