We are just about to the quarter point of the season, and the Toronto Maple Leafs are in the middle of a tight Atlantic Division.
The Maple Leafs have been a staple near the top of division and conference standings for over half a decade now.
The Leafs have the talent to reach those heights again, but at the end of November, the Maple Leafs sit uncomfortably in third place in the Atlantic Division.
|To win Stanley Cup
|To win Eastern Conference
|To win Atlantic Division
|To reach the playoffs
As good as this Maple Leafs team is, they face tougher division and conference competition than in any of their recent strong regular seasons.
Atop the Atlantic Division are the Bruins with 31 points, followed by the Panthers with 28 points. Then tied with 25 points are the Leafs, Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens each have 22 points, so they're in the playoff race especially if a few results go their way.
Elsewhere in the Eastern Conference, there are 7 of 8 teams in the Metropolitan Division that still have a realistic chance at making the playoffs.
To reiterate, this is a very good Maple Leafs team. They are loaded with superstars and can play with any team in the league, but they cannot afford to get complacent at any point in the season.
If they do, there are at least half dozen teams that can swoop in and vie for the Leafs’ playoff spot.
William Nylander has been stellar for the Leafs this season. He had a career year last year with 40 goals and 87 points.
With 12 goals and 27 points in 20 games played this season, he is currently on pace to eclipse last year’s point production for another career year.
Nylander’s breakout has come at a good time as Auston Matthews has gotten cold after starting the season with two hat tricks in two games.
While there are other fantastic players on the Leafs like Mitch Marner and captain John Tavares, this team typically goes as Matthews goes.
In his last 8 games played, Matthews uncharacteristically has just 1 goal and 3 points. During that same stretch, Nylander has 6 goals and 11 points, while Toronto is 5-2-1.
Nylander’s 27 points leads the team by 6 and he is without a doubt a major reason the Leafs are keeping pace in a loaded division and conference.
Aside from the four aforementioned stars, all of whom have at least 20 points in 20 games, the supporting cast needs to step up as only four other players have more than 10 points.
As mentioned, the team’s most popular, productive and highest-paid superstar of the last decade is going through a bit of a slump. It is not his first slump and will not be his last.
Fortunately for Matthews, there is less pressure during a tough stretch like this when teammates are picking you up with their production and the team is still winning.
Despite a unproductive couple weeks, Matthews still has 21 points in 20 games played. He averages over 4 shots on goal per game and over 21 minutes of ice time.
Playing with the fellow stars that he shares the ice with every shift, it is only a matter of time before he breaks out again in a big way.