Leafs high and mighty
ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency
|Maple Leafs forward Clarke MacArthur (second right) celebrates his goal against the Blue Jackets with teammates in Columbus, Ohio, Nov. 3, 2011. (JAY LaPRETE/Reuters)
TORONTO - Let it roll of your tongue and see how it sounds. Toronto Maple Leafs, first overall in the NHL.
With another easy win aided by a truly horrible goaltending effort from the opponent, the Leafs moved to 9-3-1 and those 19 points are tied for most in the league with the Pittsburgh Penguins after their shootout loss to the San Jose Sharks in California.
What does it mean just 13 games into the season?
Itís foolish to get too crazy with projections at this point, but consider that it was more than a month later (Dec. 4 to be exact) that the Leafs got their ninth win last season. The 4-1 win over Columbus means the Leafs now have a five-point lead over Ottawa, their closest rival in the Northeast Division and 11 more than the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.
They are winning games on off nights ó getting the second of a back-to-back is never easy against even a poor rested team ó and have plenty of areas to improve. But with such a strong early record, one that gets more meaningful in standings as the body of work increases, the incentive will be there to continue.
Bottom lines are bottom lines, after all, and with a 5-3 record over an eight-game stretch that included seven on the road, the hunch is the pile of early points will look plenty valuable later in the season.
It may seem glaringly obvious, but Leafs coach Ron Wilson is never shy to remind that the key to an efficient penalty kill is goaltending. Ben Scrivens certainly showed that at the AHL level where the Marlies were a perfect 23-for-23 while a man down with Scrivens in net. A big save on each of the Jackets first two power plays kept that streak going in the first period and by gameís end, the PK unit denied the Jackets on all four attempts ... Thanks at least in part to the strong handiwork of the goaltender, when the Jackets were unable to score in the opening 20 minutes, it was the first time the Leafs held a team off the scoresheet in the first period in nine games ... Good thing too as the Leafs clearly were sluggish after playing in Jersey the previous night ... Not sure how the Jacketsí Derek MacKenzie didnít get a penalty for pasting Leafs blueliner Mike Komisarek into the boards from behind in the first period. There has to be a chance that NHL cop Brendan Shanahan will give it another look though ... It sure didnít hurt to have terrible goaltending by the opposition on back-to-back nights. As dodgy as Martin Brodeur was 24 hours earlier in Newark, Steve Mason looked like he was trying to play his way to the minors. The clearly struggling goaltender let in four of his first 11 shots, all but one of them were routine saves ... What a difference some confidence makes for Joey Crabb, who looked like a seasoned sniper when he waited out Mason then opened the scoring in the first with a quick wrister off the post. Crabb is looked upon more for his checking and shot-blocking abilities, but every bit of offence is welcomed.
PUT HIM IN, COACH
Five reasons why we like what some felt was a bold call by Wilson to go with Scrivens Thursday night: 1. He has been successful from Day 1 of training camp. It started in the NHL pre-season where he was 2-0 with a 0.95 goals against average and .958 save percentage. With the Marlies, Scrivens has a 4-1 record. 2. Wilson has been fairly consistent in his time here to split the duties on back-to-back games. Even if Reimer was ready (and who knows his status?) it would have been tough to throw him in cold. 3. Jonas Gustavsson has been getting wins, but hasnít stood on his head in any of them. 4. Scrivens has long been seen as a viable NHL prospect and he earned the shot with his play. 5. Gustavsson had played in all but one period in the teamís previous seven games, six of those being road contests ... Not many coaches can claim this in such a short period, but Wilson has now had four goaltenders make their NHL debut under his watch: Scrivens, Gustavsson, Justin Pogge and James Reimer ... Itís only a fun stat at this point but after one NHL game, Scrivens has a .974 save percentage.
Nice way for Clarke MacArthur to celebrate his 300th career game, with a pair of goals. May not have been his best move, but a play in the third period showed what type of player he is. On a 2-on-1 with his first career hat trick staring him in the face, MacArthur dished off to Mikhail Grabovski who was denied. Better move might have been to shoot ... And the ice time keeps dwindling for Luke Schenn, who hit another season low of 9:13. Giveaways and untimely pinches make him look like his confidence his shot. Time for Wilson to sit him for a night or two and give Cody Franson a shot at redemption? ... The Leafs matched a season-low 18 shots on net but each time theyíve done so they walked away with wins. The previous was a 2-0 win over Montreal on opening night ... The Nationwide Arena in Columbus has been kind to the Leafs, who now have a 3-1 record in the Ohio capital.