Following another win by the Toronto Maple Leafs last night they now find themselves atop both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. The travelling circus that is the blue and white continues to roll on as they now sit 10-4-0 early in the 2013-14 season. It has definitely been an odd October as the Leafs were continuously outplayed and outshot yet successful. While the “strong” October is now a thing of the past, looking into November the Leafs will seek to not only solidify their defensive zone coverage but continue to collect wins against some weak teams.
Things are shaping up quite nicely for Randy Carlyle’s team in the second month of the season as they are set to play inferior opponents like the Buffalo Sabres (three times actually), New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders and Nashville Predators. In addition to those teams (and a few others) the Leafs will also face the divisional rival Boston Bruins for the first time since last spring’s playoff series as well as the Montreal Canadiens.
November kicks off with the conclusion of the Western Canadian tour as the Vancouver Canucks are the only thing that stands in the Leafs way of a perfect trip. It’s been a long time since Toronto has been able to stroll into Western Canada and emerge perfect. It had become a yearly ritual during the Pat Quinn years, but lately it has been nothing but a disaster. The last time they came out West it was the beginning of the 2011-12 collapse that saw Ron Wilson get dismissed and the team drop from 5th in the Eastern Conference to drafting 5th overall. That trip is an awful memory. While the current version of the Leafs will not get any style points, a perfect trip goes a long way in establishing some sort of fellowship among the guys in the room as well as valuable points in the bank.
Another interesting element to look for in November is the (hopeful) return to health of the Leafs. Nazem Kadri has demonstrated what everyone knew: Tyler Bozak was miscast on the top line and Kadri deserved to be in that role all along. When both Bozak and Nikolai Kulemin return, the Leafs forward ranks should be able to stand up against most teams in the league. Should both of those injured players return without anyone else joining them on the sidelines, I would hope that Carlyle proceeds with the following lineup:
JVR – Kadri – Kessel
Lupul – Bozak – Clarkson
Raymond – Bolland – Kulemin
Ashton – McClement – Bodie
Of course the Leafs offense hasn’t been an issue this year, the problems lie with the blueline. Kulemin’s all around play will help that out somewhat, but ultimately that group as a whole needs to be better. October is now a thing of the past. The Leafs October is similar to a lot of university students Halloween weekend: full of mistakes, a little lucky and ultimately a good memory. Let’s see what November brings.