10 Reasons The Maple Leafs Are Better Than Anyone Thought

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Opening up the NHL standings today, we had to do a double take.

For there, ensconced in a playoff position in the Eastern Conference, were the Toronto Maple Leafs. Yup, those same Buds who finished dead last in 2015-16 and garnered the rights to no. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews.

Now, no one should get too excited at the exact midway point of the Leafs season, for there are good teams ahead of them and decent teams chasing them with their own playoff aspirations. Not to mention their propensity for blowing early leads this season — but we haven’t seen a jersey-tosser yet.

With 41 of 82 games in the books, the Leafs have 48 points and third place in the Atlantic Division (the same number as Ottawa after the same number of games). Caution, though, because the Leafs wouldn’t be in a playoff spot in the Metropolitan and the Philadelphia Flyers own the last wild card with 50 points.

What bodes well for Toronto is the fact they have five games in hand on Philly and six on the Boston Bruins, who are second in the Atlantic with 51 points.

So, to what do we attribute Toronto’s sudden meteoric rise in the standings? There are 10 good reasons this Leafs team is much better than we thought at game 1 of the 2016-17 season.

10. The Leafs Are Road Warriors

Last year — and for a few years before that — the Leafs were cannon fodder when away from the ACC, where they lost 24 games in regulation and were 15-24-2 overall. How things have changed. Toronto is 10-6-6 on the road this season, with 19 games left away from the friendly confines of the Hangar (where they are 10-7-2). Which means they already almost as many points (26) on the road as they had all last season (32). Should the young Leafs make the playoffs, being tough to beat on the road will bode well, considering they will be tooth-and-nail just to get in, what with the parity in the East. Another good sign is that they are 14-7-3 against Eastern Conference opponents, including 9-4-1 against their division. The 2016-17 road schedule didn’t start out all that well, as Toronto went 0-3-3 in October and 2-3-1 in November. The turnaround got into high gear in December when they got points in all six road affairs. They dropped a shootout loss in Vancouver and then won five straight road games to end the month. So far in January, the blue and white are 3-0-1.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

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