You couldn’t help but feel the Southwest Coast whammy was afflicting the Maple Leafs once again as Alexander Frolov streaked in alone and beat Vesa Toskala less than a minute into the three game road spread.
But the Leafs, understandably weary from both their cross-continent trip as well as a flu bug that’s making its rounds in the dressing room, survived a sluggish first forty minutes thanks in large part to Vesa Toskala, who is suddenly in a rich vein of form following a miserable start to the year by his standards.
Toskala has posted a .960 save percentage and a 1.30 GAA in the last three game stretch, improving to a .891 SV% and a 3.02 GAA on the season. Those numbers remain substandard for VeTo, but he appears to be rediscovering the form that kept the Leafs in many games they had no business being in last season. He was pivotal in providing the Leafs with the opportunity to perform their habitual third period comeback, stopping all 26 shots he faced over the final two periods.
The game was ultimately decided by special teams. The lengthy penalty kill of an always threatening 4-on-3 proved the major turning point late in the second, as tireless work by the trio of Dominic Moore, Luke Schenn and Ian White preserved the one goal deficit entering the third. The intrepid PK effort seemed to provide a jolt of momentum heading into the third period as the Leafs immediately took it to a Kings team that seemed content to recoil into defensive mode and ride their slim 1-0 lead to the finish line.
In quick succession, Matt Stajan touched home the Maple Leafs’ first 5-on-3 goal of the season and Mikhail Grabovski finished off a visionary set-up pass from John Mitchell on the back-end of the powerplay. Vesa Toskala, another crucial penalty kill at the 5 minute mark of the third period and a Jeff Finger empty net finish sealed the two points and improved the Leafs to .500 on the year.
*Jason Blake played like his job was on the line last night (it probably is). Ron Wilson rewarded his play with 3 minutes of penalty kill time.
*Who the hell is “Raitis Ivanans?”
*There was a lot of line shifting, but Lee Stempniak, Dominic Moore and Jason Blake were really effective together.
*A masterclass performance from Luke Schenn in logging a team-leading 23 minutes of ice-time and saving the game with a vital stick-check on the PK late in the second.
*Jeff Finger is starting to gain some much-deserved recognition. I wouldn’t say he’s necessarily an out-and-out stay-at-home defenseman as advertised, but he’s providing a steady, physical presence on the back-end. Maybe I just contradicted myself.
*The Leafs have hopefully broken their powerplay scoring slump. The team was scoreless on their 16 previous man-advantage opportunities prior to Stajan’s marker on the 13 second 5 on 3.
*Matt Stajan – 21 points in 23 games. Matt freakin’ Stajan.
*The Leafs are expecting a 4 week lay-off for Jamal Mayers after the veteran broke his hand midway through the first.
The Maple Leafs look to extend their two game winning streak in San Jose tonight, but are certainly in tough against a Sharks team that’s undefeated in seven and 12-0-1 at home.