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Happy but Not Contented

by David Alter / Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs have a lot to feel good about these days.

Since a forgettable 9-2 loss to Nashville, Toronto has gone 9-1-1 in their last 11 games. They are one of the hottest teams in the NHL, and are off to a good start through their first 30 games of the year.

In past seasons, the starts have been good, too. But, the finishes haven’t.

The main difference now compared to years past? Attitude.

“The mental part of it keeps you at an even keel,” said Leafs assistant coach Peter Horachek. “You don’t want to say ‘oh we’re playing well’ because next thing you know, you’re not. You start feeling good about yourself and you forgot what got you there and what made you successful to get there.”

This attitude has allowed the Leafs to fire off five straight wins against top-flight opponents, with another one Tuesday against the Western Conference leading Anaheim Ducks.

“We were excited about yesterday’s game to measure ourselves against the champs,” said Joffrey Lupul. “We have to look at Anaheim the same way; it’s a team that is having success year in and year out. A lot of really skilled players and we look at it as another challenge and measuring stick for us.”

Just as the study continues through the wins, the Leafs didn’t beat themselves up in defeat. Even though they are nine-games above .500, they’ve seen how this can play out if they let things slip away from them.

Things appear to be different. The Leafs are starting to figure out their identity.

“You’ve got to play the same way all the time,” said Stephane Robidas. “You look at a team like the Kings, you know exactly what you’re going to get every night from them. I think for us, that’s where we need to get to.”

One game at a time.

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On Sunday night, the Maple Leafs improved to 13-0-0 this season, when scoring the first goal of the game.

Generally, teams have a winning record when getting the first tally, but they haven’t been perfect, or anywhere close.

In the Leafs case, their record when scoring first is in some unchartered territory.

First off, it’s very unlikely the Leafs will be able to maintain a perfect record in this stat category for the remainder of the season. But, staying above a winning percentage above .800 would be unprecedented.

Since 1990, there have only been four seasons where the Leafs winning percentage has eclipsed .700. The 1992-93 season saw the Leafs best showing in this department, going 34-8-7 (.786) when scoring first. The Leafs best winning percentage with the first goal in the 2004-05 post-lockout era is .675, which occurred last season.

The best teams have managed to draw first blood, and the significance of that increases as the games get closer into playoff territory.

For the Leafs, they’d be in pretty good shape if they can keep this rate of play going.

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