Toronto Maple Leafs Sit At Top of East Thanks To Great Special Teams, Goaltending

By Michael Roberts
Toronto Maple Leafs
Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs capped off an impressive first month of the season by sweeping the province of Alberta.

The Maple Leafs picked up wins over the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames on back-to-back nights. It was the first time Toronto has won in Calgary in over a decade.

Toronto heads into November at the top of the Eastern Conference standings with a 10-4 record. Nobody expected the club to finish with 20 points in the first month of the season, as it’s been a total-team effort in their climb to the top of the conference.

The Maple Leafs’ 4-2 win over the Flames was a perfect example of how the first month went for Toronto. Strong special teams, even stronger goaltending and big goals at key times led the team to victory just like it had through all of October.

After entering the contest with a 1-3 record in his previous four outings, Jonathan Bernier stole the show, being named first star of the game with a career-high 41 saves. Bernier’s previous career-high was 39 saves when he was a member of the Los Angeles Kings. Toronto’s goaltending has been the biggest reason for the team’s success as Bernier and James Reimer have arguably formed the best goaltending tandem in the league. There is no back-up in Toronto, only a 1A and 1B situation.

Toronto’s impressive special teams were also on full display against the Flames as the Maple Leafs were able to deny Calgary from scoring a power-play goal despite taking five penalties in the contest. Even more impressive than preventing a power-play goal, was the Maple Leafs’ ability to score shorthanded twice in the contest. James van Riemsdyk scored a key shorthanded goal with only four seconds left in the first period, giving Toronto momentum and a 2-0 lead heading into the intermission. Paul Ranger added the second shorthanded goal in the final two minutes of the game when the team was playing four-against-six after the Flames pulled their goaltender.

The Maple Leafs are ranked third in the league in both power-play percentage and penalty-kill percentage. They are the only team ranked in the top-three of both categories. They have also scored more shorthanded goals than any other team with four and sit second in power-play goals with 12 after the first month.

The combination of strong goaltending and the best combination of special teams in the league is the reason Toronto is at the top of the Eastern Conference. The team still has a long way to go before they can be considered a true Stanley Cup contender as they’ve been outshot in 13 of their 14 games. If the Maple Leafs can’t find a way to limit the amount of shots they give up each game, Toronto could be setting themselves up for multiple blowout losses down the road.

Then again, if Bernier and Reimer continue to stand on their head and the special teams remain in the top-five of the league, there’s no telling how far Toronto can go this season. Nobody predicted 20 points in the first month of the season, just like nobody can predict what will happen with the Maple Leafs in the second month of the season, either.

See for yourself if the Leafs goaltending can keep them atop the east all season long. Get your Maple Leafs tickets here.

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