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The Maple Leafs Are on the Right Track – for Now

USATSI_9786888_154158418_lowresIt’s a new year, which means the holidays are over and the focus shifts to the interminable darkness of winter. Also, hockey!

This year, Toronto Maple Leafs fans may see a change in fortune as their team returns to the Promised Land once more and actually makes the playoffs.

After battling the Detroit Red Wings and picking up the win at the Centennial Classic, the Maple Leafs moved into Tuesday’s contest against the Washington Capitals with a 17-12-7 record. That’s good for fifth in the Atlantic Division, which may not mean much considering how tough the division is at this point.

Ahead of Tuesday’s game, Toronto has just one regulation loss in their past nine games. Auston Matthews has emerged as one of the best forwards in the game today, with 14 goals in his past 17 games. And the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto’s key competition for that wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, seem to be slipping with the continued absence of Steven Stamkos having an effect.

Matthews currently leads the Leafs in scoring, with Mitch Marner, James van Riemsdyk, William Nylander, and Nazem Kadri rounding it out as of press time.

This group of young players has helped elevate Toronto to newfound status as a “good hockey team,” which may be enough to give fans some momentary comfort. With Matthews, Marner and Nylander making a considerable dent in NHL rookie scoring this season, it’s likely that at least one of them could capture the Calder.

But the gulf between looking like a playoff team and being a playoff team can be difficult to overcome, especially for a club so used to not making it in the end.

Toronto is, for all intents and purposes, a team in transition. They’ve been exceeding expectations in a year in which there weren’t many and they’ve rolled off a stack of wins against teams that honestly haven’t been that good.

More significant tests will come and the Maple Leafs will need a bit of luck, too, if they want to reach the post-season. And they’ll need more than luck if they want to push further, if they want to start even thinking about winning hockey’s ultimate prize – the prize they haven’t won since 1967.

In any case, things are on the right track for Toronto and the team looks good. How weird is that?

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