Leafs Dance with the Devils
A second period outburst against the Nashville Predators dramatically ended the Toronto Maple Leafs eight game losing skid and lifted the weight of the world off of their shoulders. The win on Tuesday looked out of the question as the Predators attacked the Leafs for 3 first period goals, all but collapsing their confidence. A late first period goal from Luke Schenn seemed to lift spirits and sent the Leafs into the locker room with something to build upon. During the second period something clicked with the Maple Leaf power play and as a result they scored four unanswered goals and found themselves in the strange waters of the win column.
As the focus shifts to not only maintaining but taking advantage of momentum, the Leafs welcomed the New Jersey Devils to Toronto for the first of 4 meetings this season. Even after a much needed win the losses continued in Leaf-Land. Goaltender J.S. Gigeure left Tuesday’s game late in the third period, only to be relieved by the steady and timely play of Jonas Gustavsson. With Gigeure looking to miss some time with a slight groin tweak, Gustavsson was given the start against the Devils and will carry the load for the Leafs in the coming week. Head Coach Ron Wilson touched on the exciting but unusual game in which the Leafs look to build on.
“Strange game to say the least,” Wilson said. “I’m glad we won. It’s one of those kinds of games that when you look back on it, hopefully it puts an abrupt stop to the slide we’ve been in. We can use it for momentum.”
The use of that momentum took to the ice and the Leafs showed a desire to play with some jump and were rewarded with a couple nice scoring chances in a mostly quiet first period.
Opening the scoring with a power play goal, Mikhail Grabovski continued his hot streak with his fifth of the year on a rebound from a Nikolai Kulemin shot. The goal seemed to generate the Leafs confidence and they pushed the Devils back on their heels as they continued to press. Phil Kessel put his ninth goal of the season passed Martin Brodeur, following a nifty feed by rookie Nazem Kadri. With the Leafs holding a 2-0 lead the Devils looked to find their way back into the game, and they would do so. as Dainius Zubruis scored on a bouncy play tipping off a Leaf defenceman and passed Jonas Gustavsson.
The third period saw Martin Brodeur sitting on the Devil’s bench after he looked in discomfort from a sprawling play during the second period. With Johan Hedberg in goal, the Leafs looked to test him early, however it was the Devils who pressed the Leafs into their own zone, forcing Gustavsson to make a few critical saves to preserve the two goal lead. With Gustavsson determined to keep his team in the lead, the Leafs began to skate again and moved the puck quickly. The Devils, pinned deep in their own zone took an untimely penalty and the once again productive Leaf power play went to work. It was quality puck movement that lead to another great pass by Nazem Kadri and Kris Versteeg put the one-timer passed Hedberg, giving the Leafs the insurance goal and a 3-1 lead.
The Maple Leafs looked much more like the confident and comfortable group that started the season on a high note. Although outshot, the Leafs kept control with their legs while passing very well off the rush. The fast pace and swift puck movement allowed them to control most of the game and record the 3-1victory. The win comes as the second of a necessary string of victories that will help erase the eight game slump, and push the Leafs back into the playoff picture.
Some of that confident puck movement came from the stick of rookie Nazem Kadri. Playing in his 4th game as a Maple Leaf, and 3rd of the year, Kadri is looking comfortable with his linemates, Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel. After the game, Kadri was asked how we was settling in and touched on his thoughts regarding the resurgent Leaf power play and heading into Saturday night’s game in Montreal against the Canadiens.
“Our line and the power play has been clicking and the past few games sort of been on fire. When you have guys like that on the other side who can finish, its pretty easy to make those passes. But you can’t always think pass first. I can score too and I’ll be looking for that first one soon. It will be an unbelievable experience in there (Bell Center). They were one of my favorite teams growing up as a kid. Being drafted there by the Maple Leafs, I didn’t get much of a warm welcome. Hopefully I can show a little payback.”
With two victories to show for their solid efforts and blazing power play, Head Coach Ron Wilson is preaching complete games like this, and perhaps looking to iron out a few wrinkles in the game of his young star.
“The most important thing is that we got a win, doesn’t matter who its against. To play a mostly complete game like that will help. The last ten minutes I felt good about our overall game. We got a couple nice saves from Jonas and we settled in. A nice power play goal and a main reason we got the last two wins. He’s (Kadri) making some good plays. We still have some nasty habits we have to fix but he’s learning. With a 1 goal game, he went for a skate twice. Those are things he was doing in the American League and he’ll have to eradicate those if he wants to be a full time player in the NHL.”
The Maple Leafs hold the confidence it will take in order to keep their success rolling. The players will have an extra boost of motivation and will need to be on their best behavior as the team’s annual Father/Son gathering will head to Montreal. Waiting for the Leafs are the red hot Canadiens, a true test for a team looking to remain in the win column.