The Leafs are 21-15-5 at the midpoint of the 2011-12 season, good for 47 points and seventh in the East. Things are certainly looking better now that the boys have rhymed off three straight home wins since the calendar turned 2012. Are we seeing the beginning of another second half surge for the Leafs? Let us hope; this time it’d mean playoffs.
1 – Amazingly, after nearly 650 games against one another, the Leafs’ record against the Red Wings stood .500 at 275-275-93 entering tonight. The Leafs just took the lead in the all time series between the two Original Six rivals.
2 – After an ominous start in which the Leafs had virtually no possession of the puck (a preview of what was to come), Tim Connolly picks up the disc and finds a streaking Phil Kessel in full stride, who splits through the middle and gets hooked on a breakaway. Phil makes no mistake on the ensuing penalty shot for his 24th of the season. Usually the penalty has to take away the scoring chance all together to warrant a penalty shot, but we’ll take it.
3 - That kicked off a period in which the Leafs played a perfect transition game and killed the Wings with their speed. A good counter attack enabled by solid defensive structure and good active sticks to break up Wings’ cycle.
Despite lots of time on the puck in the Leafs’ zone, the Buds limited the Wings’ shots to the perimeter in what was an easy first for Gustavsson.
4 - After Dion scores off a clap as big as his cheek on the powerplay, Kessel leads the counter attack, finds Lupul down the seam, who in turn finds a wide open David Steckel. Still don’t know how Stecks kept up with those two. 3-0 after the opening 11 minutes, and Steckel has his seventh on the season at the half way point, one off of his career high. That’s some refreshing secondary scoring from a bottom sixer.
5 - 9-0 in shots for the Wings in first 10 minutes of the second, Detroit really controlled the game in the middle frame as they ramped up the intensity and the Leafs hung back. With that much possession and that much rubber going at the net, the break through was bound to happen, and it did in the form of a Todd Bertuzzi tipped goal. The stick was high initially but for me the puck made contact with the stick below the cross bar. At the very least, replays were inconclusive.
The other problem with chasing the puck around your own zone for such spells is that the only thing you can really do offensively is dump and change. Only two shots for in the second.
Oddly enough, despite owning very little of the puck, the Leafs managed keep it pretty clean defensively. It was disappointing to then see Kronwall walk in like he did. It really gave the Wings life.
6 - The teams traded costly defensive mistakes in the third as the game began to open up. First, Jiri Hudler finds himself wide open on the back door and pounces on a rebound to complete the 3-0 comeback.
7 - The Leafs got a gift of their own shortly after. Lupul jumps on a giveaway behind the net, takes it out front and flips it up over a curiously sprawled out Jimmy Howard. Looked like Howard tried to do his best Gustavsson impression in totally the wrong time and place. We’ll take it! That’s 7 points in 3 games for Lupul. He’s really not going to slow down, is he?
8 – Jonas Gustavsson has won 9 of his last 11 and came up big on a few occasions late, including a big point blank save on Johan Franzen in the slot. He fought through Red Wing traffic all night, and wasn’t particularly at fault on any of the three goals against. 37 saves. James Reimer should officially be worried.
9 - At 7 for 7, the penalty kill has yet to be scored on in 2012. Who saw that coming? In fairness, it’s been put into action far less as discipline has improved. When put to work, the aggression level has been heightened, for the better. Let’s see if this keeps up.
10 - A common theme with this team throughout the opening half of the season has been their lack of quit. It was their work in the first that put them in the position to win this one, but things didn’t look too good when Hudler put home that 3-3 goal. They didn’t fold, pressed on, and remain perfect when leading after two periods at 15-0. For a team that’s far from perfect defensively, that really is something.