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NHL Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs: 5 Things Team Should Be Thankful For

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5 Things the Toronto Maple Leafs Should Be Thankful For

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs have a lot to be thankful for given their ability to record 30 points by the time Thanksgiving weekend has arrived.

The Maple Leafs woke up the morning of the U.S. holiday with a record of 14-9-2 and considering what the team has endured through the first two months of the season, their record is surprising. Not very many people expected Toronto to be this good at this stage of the season, especially considering the injuries and suspensions the team has had to overcome.

The Maple Leafs haven’t had any stretch of the season where they’ve been able to play with all of their top-six forwards in the line-up. When one player gets back, another player seems to get suspended or injured, usually in the same game. It’s been a creepy trend that has developed for Toronto as more than once a player returned to the lineup only to see a teammate leave in the same game.

When David Clarkson made his season debut after serving a 10-game suspension, Tyler Bozak left the game and was out of action for a month. When Bozak finally returned to the lineup, Joffrey Lupul left that game with a groin strain. The Maple Leafs have constantly had a void to fill with their top-six forwards, which makes their winning record even more impressive.

Any winning team usually has more than one reason for their success and Toronto is no different. Given the strong American presence on the Maple Leafs roster with Team USA Olympic candidates such as Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, along with 2010 Team USA World Junior Championship defenseman Jake Gardiner. Let us celebrate Thanksgiving weekend by listing five things Toronto should be thankful for.

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5. Trading Schenn For van Riemsdyk

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Considering last Thanksgiving the Maple Leafs weren’t able to be thankful for this trade because of the NHL lockout, they should be twice as thankful this holiday weekend. They should also be twice as thankful given James van Riemsdyk’s development since he arrived in Toronto and because the Philadelphia Flyers only took back Luke Schenn in return.

The top-line left-winger for the Maple Leafs has had a great start to the season as he’s currently ranked second on the team in scoring, recording 19 points in 23 games. Along with a plus/minus rating of plus-five, van Riemsdyk also sits second in ice-time for forwards on the team with an average of 20:03 per game.

Meanwhile, Schenn didn’t work out in Toronto and has struggled in Philadelphia as well. He only has one point in 21 games and is currently minus-four on the year. He also sits sixth in average ice-time amongst Flyers defensemen with only 15:48 minutes per game. Considering the Maple Leafs traded a defenseman who struggles to crack Philadelphia’s lineup for their second-leading scorer, they should be extremely thankful for this trade.

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4. Winning Record Against The West

West Record
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Only three teams in the Eastern Conference have a winning record against the Western Conference. The Tampa Bay Lightning lead the way with their 7-3-1 record against the West. The Pittsburgh Penguins are 4-2 against the West. Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs are 6-4-1 against the other conference with a 4-1 record against the Pacific Division. Toronto should be thankful they’ve managed to already earn points against the Western Conference considering their record will be tested in December, as six of their 14 opponents in the month will be from the West. Luckily for Toronto, five of those six games will be played at the Air Canada Centre. Which leads to the next thing the Maple Leafs should be thankful for…

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3. Winning Record at Home

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

For years, the Air Canada Centre used to be a place where Ontario-born players would visit Toronto and record a big game against the Maple Leafs in front of friends and family. Those days have changed for the most part as under coach Randy Carlyle Toronto has become a tough place for visiting teams to play. Last season the Maple Leafs were 13-9-2 at home and they’ve already managed to start the season with a 9-4 record on their home ice. Given the shorthanded lineup Toronto has endured through the first two months of the season, they needed to make it hard for opponents to leave the Air Canada Centre with two points. The Maple Leafs have done just that and considering they’ll welcome the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings to town in December, Toronto should be thankful they’ve earned 18 out of a possible 26 points at home.

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2. Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret one of the biggest reasons for Toronto’s success this season has been the play of their two goaltenders. Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer have been great through the first two months even though they’ve struggled lately. In fact, with Toronto having gone 1-2-1 in their last four games and been outscored 18-8 in that span, it’s only shown how important Bernier and Reimer have been to this team. The Maple Leafs routinely get out-shot by their opponents and it’s become nearly pathetic at this point of the season. The team needs to show some pride and pick up their play in front of their two goaltenders. Reimer and Bernier have bailed out their teammates night after night in the first two months as both sit in the top 10 in the league for save-percentage. Its time the skaters in front of them show how thankful they are for their goaltenders by picking up their performance when the two aren’t at the top of their game.

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1. Dion Phaneuf

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

All Dion Phaneuf seems to do is play well and then receive negative criticism for it. Toronto fans should be extremely thankful for Phaneuf’s consistent play this season as even when the team has lost, he’s played at a high level. Despite playing against the opposition’s top-line every night, Phaneuf currently sits tied for eighth in the league with his plus/minus rating of plus-13. Even in the 11 games Toronto has failed to win this season, Phaneuf is still a positive player with a combined plus-one rating in those games. It’s hard to ask Phaneuf to play any better this season, yet fans still like to criticize the team’s captain. Regardless of what fans say, the stats don’t lie and they prove Phaneuf has played well this season. Maple Leaf fans should be thankful for everything their captain has provided the team on their limited blue line. They should also be thankful if they can sign him to a contract extension as they won't be able to replace him if they don't give him the contract he deserves.