Toronto Maple Leafs overcoming slow start as star players step up

John Tavares #91 of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks to the officials to see if his goal will stand against the Boston Bruins. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
John Tavares #91 of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks to the officials to see if his goal will stand against the Boston Bruins. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs had a slow start to the 2021-22 season, but over their last five games they have seen a serious upturn in performances.

To start the new season, returning to the league format experienced prior to the 2021 COVID-affected campaign, the Toronto Maple Leafs looked to be continuing their playoff difficulties and were not the team the fanbase were expecting to see.

Through their first seven games of the season, the Leafs posted a shockingly disappointing 2-4-1 record and were heading down a dark path that had everyone questioning what was wrong with the team and, in particular, its stars.

The Leafs did not have Auston Matthews for the first three games of the season, and his return from wrist surgery saw him get off to an extremely slow start by his standards, with just a solitary goal in his first four outings with the team.

Despite returning to the team in good health, the slow start was also painfully noticeable from both Mitch Marner and team captain John Tavares, who had just one and three points respectively in their first seven games.

Red flag were flying everywhere on social media around the team, with serious concerns over the team’s shocking regression and how long it would be before things would turn around.

Fortunately, the wait for that turnaround was a short one as the Leafs have now posted five consecutive victories and a big reason for the impressive showings, which now sees the team hold a 7-4-1 record and sit second in the Atlantic Division, has been the recapture of their stars’ form.

Matthews, who was still adjusting to his return, getting comfortable with a wrist injury that bugged him last season, has now scored four goals and added a further three assists in those five victories – taking his season total to five goals and eight total points in just nine games.

Tavares has also stepped up in a big way, leading the charge through the centre with an astonishing nine points in those five games, picking up five goals and four assists through that run to give him a point-per-game pace after 12 games.

But the biggest revival, and the one that needed to get positive results the most out of any player, thanks to the heavy scrutiny he seems to face compared to other players on the team, was Marner.

Marner had one sole assist in his opening games and looked to be a player lost beneath the sheer weight of expectations and criticism he has faced since the playoffs and even before.

The last five games, however, the elite playmaking winger has let go of those distractions and stresses and looks to be every bit the player the fans knew he was, posting 11 points.

Three goals and eight assists show exactly how important the Markham, Ontario native truly is to Sheldon Keefe’s team, putting the puck into the right places to help his line-mates make plays, both at even strength and on the powerplay.

The victories have also been impressive due to the quality of opposition faced in that span, with back-to-back wins coming against the Boston Bruins and reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

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With their stars back on form, the Toronto Maple Leafs should now be primed to make a run at the playoffs and look to finally overcome their first round woes of the past half-decade, putting their early struggles in the rear-view mirror and never looking back.