A Kessel fight, a Blake goal (or two), and a Kulemin shortie.Â It was a night of rarities as the Leafs took it to Columbus with a decisive 6-3 victory. Toronto beat the Blue Jackets to loose pucks all night long, forced turnovers with their speed, and miraculously capitalized on their chances.
-The lines are clicking right now.Â Ron Wilson is a compulsive line-changer but he may be hard pressed to mix it up too much the way the Leafs forwards are playing.Â Phil Kessel just keeps on cruising with another two goals tonight.Â Stunningly enough, they are all at even strength.Â This has as much to do with a suddeningly anemic Toronto powerplay as it does Kessel’s prowess.Â He is doing an exceptional job at getting into the open areas and releasing quick shots as his top-end skill is shining through.Â To be honest, most of Toronto’s forwards would have attempted a jam play on Kessel’s first goal tonight when the puck was in Mason’s pads.Â Instead, Phil calmly pulled it out and put it up. That’s the difference that will pay huge dividends for our American sniper.Â The kid is playing with fire and confidence, even getting into a tussle with Kris Russell.Â Alexei Ponikarovsky has also done an excellent job of making space with his size and drawing some additional coverage.
-While Grabovski and Hagman have been an effective duo for a while now, Leafs nation should pray that they’ve genuinely got Jason Blake on a roll after a two-goal outburst by the oft-maligned winger.Â As much as he is criticized, Blake works tirelessly and just needs to get rolling.Â He won’t justify his contract, but if he manages to chip in consistently on offense he will be an important part of this team going forward. I’m a firm believer that this line has legitimate potential as a second-line scoring threat going forward.
-Nik Kulemin is having an outstanding sophomore campaign. Â He may not be lighting it up offensively but I know you have all noticed his perseverance defensively and underrated physical presence.Â I believe the shifty Russian has the talent to be a 20+ goal scorer that is a defensive stalwart and stud on the penalty kill.Â Ron Wilson has begun to show confidence in Kulemin’s play and this is carrying over to Nik’s on-ice performance.
-Joey MacDonald had a lights-out game in net.Â The Marlies tender frustrated Rick Nash and co. all night long.Â More importantly, he had a handful (too many!) of saves to make on shorthanded and odd-man rushes and answered the bell with aplomb.Â With Gustavsson on the sidelines for a bit and Toskala waiting in the wings, goalie assignments will be a tough call for the coaching staff going forward.
The Leafs have a big hill to climb to get back into playoff contention.Â With the way they have been playing, they will have a chance to pull out a win every night.Â They will require some consistency both up front and in their own end of the ice if they are to string together some noteworthy streaks.
Here are some questions for you, our knowledgeable readers, on the Leafs going forward:
1) Blake: beginning of a streak, or a flash in the pan?
2) In Boston: Joey MacDonald or Vesa Toskala?
3) What is Nik Kulemin’s potential?
4) What should the Leafs do to improve their powerplay?
As always, interested to hear your thoughts.