NHL Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs: Top 5 Players Through First Quarter Of 2013-14 Season

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Top 5 Toronto Maple Leafs at the Quarter Mark

Maple Leafs
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs have played 23 games to date and have managed to rack up 29 points in that span with their 14-8-1 record.

Nobody expected at the quarter mark of the season the Maple Leafs would be near the top of the standings. It wasn’t because nobody expected the team to be any good this season as many predicted them to make the playoffs, but it was a stretch to think that a week away from December, Toronto would be tied for second in the Atlantic Division, as well as tied for third in the Eastern Conference.

When people think about the top teams in the east, the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins come to mind. Playing in their first season in the east after moving over from the west, many expected the Detroit Red Wings to be near the top of the standings. The Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals usually round out the discussion of the elite teams in the East as well.

What’s made the Maple Leafs so impressive through the first quarter of the season is they’ve managed to defeat the majority of the top teams in their conference. They own wins against Sidney Crosby's Penguins, they’ve defeated Alexander Ovechkin's Capitals and they’ve beaten the Canadiens in Montreal. They lost to the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins 3-1 in Boston, but it was a hard-fought game and hardly something that a team hangs their heads over.

Managing to defeat elite teams while not giving up points to weaker teams is exactly why Toronto finds itself near the top of the standings. However, no team becomes an elite team in their conference without special performances by key members of the club.

Here are the top five players for the Maple Leafs through the first quarter of the season.

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5. Jay McClement

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The furthest thing from a flashy player you’ll find in the league, Jay McClement is the definition of doing the little things needed to win games. McClement has been used up and down the lineup given the injuries to follow centers Tyler Bozak and Dave Bolland, and he hasn’t looked out of place in any situation. He’s not depended on to provide offense. Instead, he’s largely relied on for his defensive game and ability to win face-offs. McClement is used to play the majority, if not all of the team’s penalty kill minutes. Although he only has two assists on the year, he averages more ice time than Nazem Kadri and David Clarkson. If it weren’t for McClement’s exceptional defense, who knows where Toronto’s penalty kill percentage would be considering the injuries to Bozak and Bolland?

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4. James van Riemsdyk

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Given how strong James van Riemsdyk has played to begin the season, it’s hard to believe the Maple Leafs were able to acquire him for only Luke Schenn. The former second-overall pick is second on the team in goals with nine and also second in ice-time for forwards with 20:05 per game. He’s recorded 16 points in 21 games and is a plus-three on the season. He can do a little bit of everything for Toronto as he plays on the first power play unit and often finds himself killing penalties as well. The power forward has also developed an impressive chemistry with follow American teammate Phil Kessel, and the duo combined to record 31 points in October. With such a strong start to the season along with his versatility on the ice, it wouldn’t be surprising if Team USA selects him to represent his country at the Olympics.

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3. Dion Phaneuf

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The captain of the Maple Leafs is often criticized just because he plays in Toronto, but there’s no denying that Dion Phaneuf has played some of the best hockey of his career through the first quarter of the season. He leads the team in ice time at just over 24 minutes a game, three minutes more than Cody Franson, who is second on the team. He’s second on the team in hits with 58, as well as second in blocked shots with 44. However, the most impressive stat for Phaneuf is his plus-11 rating through the first 22 games, which is twice as good as the second best-player on the team. His plus-11 rating also has him tied for 11th in the league, better than players such as Henrik Zetterberg, Duncan Keith and Zdeno Chara. Maybe people in Toronto should top criticizing Phaneuf for not being perfect and start appreciating the fact he’s playing some extremely impressive hockey. He might even find himself representing Team Canada at the Olympics.

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2. Phil Kessel

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When Phil Kessel signed an eight-year, $64-million extension to begin the season, some fans feared his on-ice performance would drop. After all, Toronto has seen talented players get paid in the past and suddenly forget to play at the level they earned their contracts at. However, things couldn’t be further from the case regarding Kessel as the sniper has recorded 21 points in 23 games. He leads the team with 12 goals and is tied for first in game-winning-goals with three. He’s struggled in November, only managing to record three goals with zero assists as there appears to be something bothering him. Regardless, there’s no denying a big reason for Toronto’s strong start to the season is because of the 18 points Kessel was able to put up in October, a month where the team only suffered three losses. When Kessel is healthy and firing on all cylinders, there are few players better than him in the league. The Maple Leafs will go as far as Kessel’s talents can take them.

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1. Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer

Bernier Reimer
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to the Maple Leafs, it’s impossible to mention one goaltender without mentioning the other. Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer have taken turns standing on their heads for Toronto and proven there is no backup goaltender for the Maple Leafs. Using a 1A and 1B system, Toronto has received outstanding goaltending performances through the first-quarter of the season.

For a team that is constantly outshot by the opposition like the Maple Leafs are, receiving quality goaltending is crucial to their success. Toronto hasn’t just received quality goaltending, they’ve quite possibly received the best goaltending out of any team in the league and considering the numbers that their two netminders are putting up, it’s hard to argue they haven’t. Bernier and Reimer are the biggest reasons why the Maple Leafs are near the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Without them, Toronto would find it extremely difficult to even be in the playoff picture, let alone anywhere close to leading their division.