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NHL Puck Drops: High-flying Leafs don’t disappoint

Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) skates with the puck past Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) during the first period of a recent NHL hockey game in Washington, D.C.
Nick Wass/Associated Press
Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) skates with the puck past Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) during the first period of a recent NHL hockey game in Washington, D.C. Nick Wass/Associated Press - Associated Press

NHL pundits talks Leafs firepower, the new Swede in town and Oilers slipping

The Toronto Maple Leafs entered this season expected to be an offensive powerhouse. With free-agent signing John Tavares joining Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and puck-moving defenseman Morgan Rielly, the Leafs haven't disappointed in the early going. As this week began, their potent scoring punch had them sitting in first place in the overall standings. 

As of Oct. 14, the Leafs led the NHL in scoring with 29 goals. Matthews (10 goals,14 points) and Rielly (10 assists, 13 points) were first and second in the league-scoring race, with Tavares and Marner (10 points each) sitting fifth and sixth. Matthews also led the league in goals while Rielly was the assist leader. 

The Leafs' impressive firepower, however, overshadows a couple of potential problem areas.

While the defence has reduced its shots-against per game from last season's 33.9 to 30.2, it’s tied with the lowly Detroit Red Wings for the most goals-against (22). Starting goaltender Frederik Andersen sports a bloated 3.02 goals-against average and a woeful .899 save percentage. 

Meanwhile, contract negotiations with restricted free agent forward William Nylander remain stalled. 

He reportedly wants a long-term deal worth over $8-million annually while the Leafs countered with between $6 million to $6.5-million. Should this standoff drag on beyond Dec. 1, Nylander would become ineligible to play for the remainder of the season. 

The Leafs' fire-wagon hockey has overcome Andersen's struggles in goal and Nylander's absence thus far. Left unaddressed for long, however, those issues could hamper their quest for the Stanley Cup.

New Swedish star in Vancouver

Since 2000, the Vancouver Canucks' offence was powered by Swedish stars such as Markus Naslund and twin brothers Daniel and Henrik Sedin. It looks like Elias Pettersson could join their ranks. 

Selected fifth overall in the 2017 NHL Draft, the 19-year-old Pettersson is garnering notice. In just five games, the rookie centre leads the Canucks with five goals and eight points. 

Before leaving last Saturday's game against Florida with a head injury, Pettersson was dazzling observers with his slick puck-handling and shrewd offensive instincts. The Canucks look like they have a future superstar in their ranks. Hopefully, he won't be sidelined for long. 

Time to worry in Edmonton?

The Edmonton Oilers began this season hoping to bounce back from a disappointing 2017-18 performance. They looked promising during preseason play, winning six of seven games while ranking among the leaders in goals scored. 

Since the regular season began, however, the Oilers looked a lot like last year's bunch. Apart from superstar captain Connor McDavid, they managed just five goals and gave up 10 while losing two of their opening three games.  

Starting their season playing exhibition games in Switzerland and their season opener against New Jersey in Sweden could account for this slow start. That's cold comfort for Oilers followers already nervous over their club's poor showing to date. 

The Oilers have plenty of time to reverse their fortunes, but their fans could panic if their club doesn't turn things around by month's end. 

Lyle Richardson is a freelance writer with Sporting News and runs the website Spector’s Hockey. His column will appear in The Guardian throughout the NHL hockey season.

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