Crabb nets first, Leafs crack Sabres in Buffalo

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    Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

    In what has to be considered to be a fairly monumental win for the Leafs in Buffalo (their first in eight games), it was fitting that Joey Crabb tallied his first goal as a Leaf and helped lead the club to a hard-earned 2-1 victory.

    On a nationally televised tilt against the Sabres, the Leafs went in to Buffalo and took two points from a game that they truly deserved to win. That isn’t to say I wasn’t yelling at the television a few times in the dying moments.

    Toronto played as good a road game as you could ask for, and after J.S. Giguere was forced to leave the game after only twenty minutes, James Reimer came in and played great in relief (as if we would come to expect anything less).

    The victory puts the Leafs at six points away from a playoff spot, as New Jersey handed the Hurricanes a loss at the Prudential Center. Right now the Canes and Leafs each have 24 games remaining. I know, this is all too much for me to handle as well.

    Phil Kessel continues to pick up steam, racking up another tally after his big night in Boston on Tuesday. Punches in bunches with #81 – it will never change, we just need everyone to embrace it.

    The positive you can take from Kessel’s drought this year, however, is that he played quite well despite the dry-up in goals. As long as he can continue to do that as the team improves around him, he’ll become much more dangerous as he heads into his prime.

    I thought Joffrey Lupul had a great game in Boston on Tuesday and he turned in another good outing tonight against the Sabres. Yet to light the lamp for Toronto, he still has three points in four games, all on Kessel markers. Lupul looks like a real top six forward and if he can stay the course, the Leafs can come out of the Beauchemin trade way ahead. Small sample size, so we’ll see what happens.

    A few stats:

    Tops in ice time for a Leafs defenceman: Phaneuf at 26:31 (giving Schenn a break I suppose).

    For a Leafs forward: Nik Kulemin at 20:40 (can this guy do any wrong? Nope)

    Mikhail Grabovski led the team in shots (6) but was held scoreless and was the only minus player.

    Mike Komisarek played a little over twelve minutes. Hey, at least it’s not eight.

    ***

    From Alec Brownscombe:

    -Without getting ahead of oneself, Joffrey Lupul has shown considerable promise in his first three games and brought an element of size and physicality that wasn’t exactly advertised upon the news of his arrival. His willingness to engage physically and put his solid frame to work has opened up space and opportunity for Kessel. Again, without getting too excited, the early successes of his line with Bozak and Kessel gives hope the Leafs could receive some consistency out of a second forward line outside of Grabovski’s.

    Lupul’s addition, contingent upon his continued effectiveness on that line, has also so far helped Wilson establish a clearer top six, bottom six model that has fewer players playing above their head. A bottom six of Sjostrom – Boyce – Hanson and Rosehill – Brent – Crabb allows the likes of Brent and Crabb play within their roles and capabilities and both did great work defensively tonight. Could we be seeing what Burke meant when he said Versteeg didn’t really fit the mold?

    -It was nice to see the Leafs bear down and not let James Reimer’s mistake on Buffalo’s lone goal cost them and potentially some of Reimer’s confidence. For me, it was Reimer’s first goal allowed that was a case of “well, he really should’ve had that one” and the Leafs clamped down well defensively to make sure the goal was purely academic.

    -Keith Aulie registered a career high 23:50 minutes of ice time.

    -There was a bit of early luck involved in this win, but I suppose it was about time after taking more than their fair share of beatings in the building. Winless in their last seven at the HSBC, the Leafs started five of those contests two goals down after twenty minutes of action. Bad starts were killers, and if the post didn’t come in handy after Komisarek decided to take an early-game fishing expedition then this game might have gotten away from the Leafs again early.

    -Six points away from the eighth placed team Carolina with the same number of games played sounds deceivingly within reach, but the Leafs have 24 games remaining and need 34 points if they simply want to reach 90 points. The Habs qualified at a surprisingly low 88 points last season, but the prior to that, eighth placed teams qualified with the following point totals since the lockout:

    Season Team Points
    ’09-10 Montreal 88
    ’08-09 Montreal 93
    ’07-08 Boston 94
    ’06-07 Islanders 92
    ’05-06 Lightning 92

    Something like 16-5-3 would give the Leafs a shot. Essentially, the Blue and White would have to sustain the form we’ve only seen in three or four game spurts over 20+ games. It’s a huge ask (not to mention the March schedule from hell) but I suppose the best way to approach it is the cliched way – one game at a time.

    Next up is two opponents below them in the Eastern Conference standings in the Senators and Islanders. Four points for the taking, in other words, if the Leafs were serious about this remote playoff drive. Then again, if Kaberle is on the way out before February 28 as many would have you believe, even Burke couldn’t convince us the towel hasn’t been thrown on the 2010-11 season.

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