The sizzling start the Toronto Maple Leafs so badly desired has been built on a lethal power play and the ability to find one more goal every time they need it.
But their commitment at the less enjoyable end of the ice merits some mention as well.
In beating the Edmonton Oilers 4-3 on Thursday night, the Maple Leafs kept another opponent below 30 shots. They are averaging just 27 against per night during the 7-2-0 climb to the top of the North Division, which is a marked improvement from where they were a year ago.
Protecting the net-front was a priority spelled out on the first day of training camp by Sheldon Keefe earlier this month and the head coach is seeing progress. Call it a long-range goal for a roster that can seemingly summon offence at will.
The Leafs were disappointed by squandering 2-0 and 3-2 lead at Rogers Place. Keefe was livid at seeing his players take seven minor penalties in the game, saying “Obviously we have to stay out of the penalty box. The penalties have been crazy. It’s just not good enough.”
But the sting was softened by an Auston Matthews power-play strike with less than seven minutes to play since it delivered another regulation victory and allowed everyone to step back and look at all the good happening for the team at 5-on-5 over the first couple weeks.
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“We’ve defended hard,” said Keefe. “The guys are working and we’ve really significantly cut down on the high-danger chances and odd-man rushes and the players have been really committed to that. It’s been far from perfect, we’ve got a lot of areas to grow. We’re not even close to being the team that I think we can be, the team that we would need to be.
“I think the greatest news of all is that none of the games have been perfect and there’s lots of room for growth.”