Mislav had to sit this one out, let’s hope I can fill his shoes as well as Gustavsson filled the Leafs‘ net tonight. Glove tap to Alec for contributing a few of his insights as well.
1. The Leafs are 12-8-2, and their speed gave the Lightning D fits tonight … as it has so many other teams in the league.
2. The Lightning came out pressing early, sending two men deep on the forecheck in search of the first goal. MacArthur’s tipped goal off a Gardiner point shot on the first shift was key to setting the tone in this one and especially in preventing the Lightning from potentially reverting to Boucher’s 1-3-1.
3. Lecavalier squeaked one through Gustavsson on one of two powerplay opportunities for the Lightning in the opening ten minutes. Gustavsson would probably like a second chance to hold onto that one, but they really should’ve been scored upon on the first powerplay opportunity as the Leafs were equal parts lucky and bailed out by the Monster. With the Leafs’ PK a work in progress, you cannot give a team with the Lightning’s offensive weapons four minutes with the man advantage in the first ten, in their barn, and expect to come out unscathed.
4. Kessel was drawing a ton of attention from swarms of Lightning players tonight, which will continue to be the theme the longer he stays at or near the top of the scoring race. Kessel has consistently produced through 21 games because of his ability to get the puck off his stick quickly and onto a linemate’s tape. You don’t put up these type of numbers by being one-dimensional. On the Leafs’ 3rd goal (the 5-on-3 PP), he draws the coverage, gets the puck on net, and Bozak cashes in on the rebound.
5. With a three point first period for Tim Connolly, the Glass Man is now at 10 points in 10 games. Let’s pray he can stay healthy, he brings a very valuable weapon to this offense not named Lupul or Kessel. Just for kicks, Ville Leino, ostensibly Connolly’s replacement in Buffalo, has 5 points in 20 games.
6. The PP remains red hot, scoring twice to move up to 3rd in the NHL at 22.6%. The puck movement was great, as it has been since this PP caught fire, but notice also Joe Colborne’s 6’5″ frame out front providing a screen and giving the Lightning D something to think about on the second Leaf goal. The Leafs’ penalty kill meanwhile goes four for five, and has now killed 20 of its last 23. PK coach Greg Cronin talked recently of the need for firm pairings, and Steckel/Dupuis and Conolly/Kulemin appear to be those pairings for now. Cronin also spoke of penalty killing living and dying by the level of experience on the units; Connolly, since returning from injury, has been important in bringing poise and savvy in shorthanded situations. Definitely an understated asset Connolly brings to this team, that.
7. Speaking of Joe Colborne, he has come as advertised from the Marlies. While he may not be the big hitter fans often imagine a player his size to be, he uses his frame effectively to shield the puck and establish space. It has allowed him to effectively create offensive opportunities in the AHL, and seems to be transitioning with ease to the NHL.
8. Matt Frattin was a beast tonight. On Joey Crabb’s goal in particular, he showed signs of the classic power forward mold by pushing the puck to the net while effectively carrying the Lightning defender on his back. Always great to watch a player reward their club for its patience in him. He’s a keeper.
9. Anyone notice Luke Schenn’s game tonight? After what was arguably a setback for him against Carolina, he rebounded with a strong effort tonight — a sign that his season is far from lost. If he can keep this up, the team will be able to breathe easier about Komisarek’s injury and focus on bringing him back slowly. With Phaneuf and Gunnarsson seemingly locked in as the top pairing, Schenn and Gardiner could be a formidable secondary duo the rest of the season.
10. What you have to love about this Leafs’ team is the way they keep the pedal to the metal. They didn’t let up after establishing a big lead against Washington, didn’t let up when trailing Carolina late, and didn’t let up with a big lead tonight. Much of that credit has to go to the coaching staff. Remember Wilson’s timeout with a multi-goal lead in the Washington game? It reinforced a message to which the team has clearly responded. For as much flak as the coaching staff gets in Toronto, the team’s competitiveness night in and night out is an area in which they should be (rightfully) commended.
10b. It’s difficult, what to make of Jonas Gustavsson. The physical tools are all there, and when it all comes together for him he reminds us why so many teams pursued him as a free agent not so long ago. Unfortunately, it only ever seems to come together for him when the Leafs’ offense is clicking, or when the team has established a multi-goal lead. Pressure situations, however (close games / Leafs trailing), seem to be the moments where things typically go awry for him. Tonight, and Saturday against Washington, Gustavsson was able to relax and focus on playing to win, rather than playing not to lose … and the results speak for themselves. The question is, now that his confidence is rolling, what happens the next time the score is close late, and/or the offense has trouble getting anything going? By rights he should be given an opportunity to answer that question — and his critics — Friday in Dallas.