October 21, 2010 at 1:00 am

Ted Kulfan: NHL Insider

Maple Leafs sprout early success

Jean-Sebastien Giguere is back in full form for a 4-1 team that’s generating plenty of buzz. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The Maple Leafs have been dreadful for so long, the rabid fans have forgotten what success is like.

But they're getting a taste.

The Leafs are 4-0-1.

And if those same fans, who probably believe the hockey world revolves around Toronto, aren't planning a Stanley Cup parade route yet, they're planning for the playoffs.

Know what? At least the playoff part of that fantasy suddenly sounds realistic.

One reason is goaltending.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere is looking like the J.S. Giguere (3-0-1, .911 save percentage) who stonewalled the Red Wings in the 2003 and 2007 playoffs.

"Your No. 1 goalie should be your real leader on the team," assistant Tim Hunter told the Toronto Sun recently. "He's the guys that everyone looks to settle things down.

"One of our management people (recently) noted that until we kind of get our team into a groove here, we're really going to need our goaltending to hold us in."

The Leafs also have gotten scoring from Clarke MacArthur (5 goals) and Tim Brent (2 goals), players who are supporting what Phil Kessel (5 goals) and Nikolai Kulemin (4 points) are counted on doing (scoring).

But there's a new attitude.

After Jeff Finger was demoted, only nine Leafs were on the roster from the team that started 0-7-1 last season.

This roster expects to win.

"Everyone keeps bringing up the start of last season," defenseman Luke Schenn said. "But that's so far in the past, we're not worried about it."

Time for a trade?

Everyone is convinced the Capitals are the best team in the East and can win the Stanley Cup — if they get good enough goaltending.

And that's a big if, what with two unproven youngsters Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov handling the work.

So far, Neuvirth (4-2-0, .921 save percentage) has done a credible job. But there's already speculation the Capitals will go after Panthers goaltender Tomas Vokoun at the trade deadline if Florida falls out of playoff contention.

Capitals general manager George McPhee and coach Bruce Boudreau insist they'll give their current goaltender enough playing time until one emerges.

"If they're equal, we'll split, but somebody always comes to the forefront and ends up becoming the guy," Boudreau told the Washington Post.

Hard to repeat

Last season the Canucks scored 268 goals, second in the NHL. That's why many expected the Canucks to contend for the Cup this season because they've added depth, still have goaltender Roberto Luongo , and yes, all that offense.

There's one asterisk to those 268 goals, though.

Six Canucks ( Henrik Sedin 29 goals, Ryan Kesler 25, Alex Burrows 35, Mikael Samuelsson 30, Mason Raymond 25 and Christian Ehrhoff 14) had career-highs.

The Canucks have scored 14 goals in six games this season.

"It's going to be very hard to replicate that; everything went well last season," defenseman Kevin Bieksa told the Vancouver Province. "We got a lot of bounces and lot of guys had career seasons."

By the numbers

7 -- Goals for Chicago forward Marian Hossa, No. 1 in the league29.2 -- Average penalty minutes for the Ducks, worst in the league45.8 -- Power-play percentage for the Wild, No. 1 in the league

Ted's top five

1. Dallas (14): Give them credit, they keep finding ways to win.

2. Washington (7): Goaltending is holding up — so far.

3. Nashville (16): Looks like the typical, gritty Predators.

4. Los Angeles (11): Look out, the Kings may actually be for real.

5. Toronto (12): Giguere is looking like the Giguere of old.

Ted's bottom five

26. Anaheim (30): Nice to see Lilja land a job in the NHL.

27. Columbus (26): Nash not scoring, which is a concern.

28. Buffalo (17): Sophomore jinx? Myers enduring a real rough patch.

29. Ottawa (29): Kovalev, Gonchar have done little or nothing.

30. New Jersey (27): No scoring, Brodeur struggling, defense terrible.

Last week's rankings in parentheses

Who are these guys?

Statistics are skewed this early, but there's a bunch of unfamiliar goaltenders leading the league in save percentage:

GoaltenderTeamPct.
Robin LehnerOTT1.000
Tim ThomasBOS.979
Cory SchneiderVAN.974
Pekka RinneNAS.969
Jonathan QuickLA.963

In control

One of the most underrated statistics is winning the faceoff. The best:

PlayerTeamPct.
Jerred SmithsonNAS70.9
Manny MalhotraVAN67.6
Zenon KonopkaNYI65.4
Paul GaustadBUF65.2
Marty ReasonerFLA64.1

Quotable

"We are in our area of work and we are all for the hooting and hollering and supporting your team … but as soon as you cross that line and want to become physical with a player, we have to make sure we take care of ourselves."

-- Manny Malhotra, Vancouver forward, on teammate Rick Rypien shoving a Minnesota fan during Wednesday's game

ted.kulfan@detnews.com

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