The Toronto Maple Leafs have won just one of their first three contests but by virtue of two overtime/shootout defeats, the team has accumulated four of a possible six points. As Mark Masters of TSN writes, Leafs bench boss Mike Babcock is “relatively pleased” with where his team sits in the standings.
“We’ve had an opportunity, I believe, to be 3-0. We’ve got four out of six points, which if you told me that before this started I would’ve said, ‘That’s fine,’ but we could’ve had more and I’m a bit greedy and so are the guys.”
Toronto is one of the youngest teams in the league, with six rookies – Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Zach Hyman, Connor Brown, Mitch Marner and Nikita Zaitsev – skating regular shifts for the Leafs. With that much youth it’s likely the team will understandably have plenty of ups and downs during the season. Babcock noted that the team’s top line, for example, which consists of Matthews, Nylander and Hyman, has some room to grow based on Wednesday’s performance against the Jets:
“I thought it was really dangerous offensively and not very good defensively.”
Toronto may or may not be ready to challenge for a playoff berth this season, but the arrow is certainly pointing up for a Leafs team that boasts a ton of young, high-end skill and talent.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic Division:
- Also from the Masters piece, goaltender Frederik Andersen has struggled out of the gate as the Leafs new #1 goalie, posting a 3.61 GAA and a Save % of just 87.6% in three starts, but Andersen is not yet worried. “If you just look at stats it doesn’t look pretty, but I thought I played pretty well. Obviously, some small things I got to clean up and me and Stevey (goalie coach Steve Briere) got to work today in practice so small fixes. I’m not too worried.” The Leafs paid a steep price to land Andersen from the Ducks – a 2016 first-round pick and a 2017 second-round pick – then rewarded the Danish netminder with a five-year, $25MM contract with the belief he would solve the team’s longstanding issues in goal. It’s a small sample size of course, but so far Andersen has not lived up to expectations in Toronto.
- Veteran forward Clarke MacArthur, concussed during Ottawa’s initial intrasquad practice in training camp, is expected to join the Senators on their three-game, Western Canadian road trip beginning this weekend, writes Ken Warren of the Ottawa Citizen. MacArthur is still not close to playing and may have only recently started skating but the news is still encouraging. This is the fourth documented concussion within the last 18 months for the 31-year-old winger. The hope for the Senators, according to head coach Guy Boucher, is that just having MacArthur around the team on the trip will be good for him: “Obviously, he’s not going to play. We’re talking about being with the guys, being part of the routine. It would be good for him mentally, but we still haven’t 100% decided that.”
- For six seasons, Jimmy Howard was the #1 goalie for the Detroit Red Wings before losing the job to Petr Mrazek last season. Howard struggled in the backup role in 2015-16 but coming into the season knowing Mrazek would again be the starter has helped the veteran netminder adapt, according to Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press. Said Howard: “I think I know how to handle the situation a lot better now. Last year I didn’t quite understand how to be the backup, never had been it before. So I fully understand the role now and how to stay mentally sharp in between starts.” Howard qualifies as an expensive backup with a contract that runs through the 2018-19 season and that calls for a cap hit of nearly $5.3MM per. Detroit was rumored to be looking to trade the 32-year-old goalie this summer and could do so again this offseason, assuming he isn’t claimed in the expansion draft by Las Vegas.