Following up on Nazem Kadri‘s 3rd star honours last week, Joffrey Lupul is your NHL 1st star for the week of March 25-31 after four games consisting of 5 goals, 4 assists, 9 points, and 3 game-winning goals (consecutively vs. Florida, Carolina and Ottawa). In his career as a Leaf, Lupul now has 99 points in 103 games.
On top of his natural offensive abilities, Joffrey Lupul is benefitting from a rest advantage having missed such a big cluster of games in a compact schedule. Joe Corvo certainly didn’t expect the late-game speed drive out of Lupul in an end-to-end rush to win the game against Carolina. Lupul is visibly “fresher” out there over 60 minutes. To his credit, his conditioning was described as excellent coming out of the lockout and he appeared to be able to take the time while sidelined with the injury – he was able to skate, just couldn’t shoot – to touch up his edge work with Barb Underhill. It’s tough to say which is the bigger factor here, but he’s getting around the rink better than ever, is engaged physically and he’s looked supremely confident coming off a disheartening injury layoff.
Without Lupul jumping back into the lineup and hitting the ground running, you could make an argument the Leafs would be in notably worse shape than their current 20-12-4. They beat Boston 3-2 without him, but remember, he entered the lineup at a time when the Leafs had lost four straight, a few in pretty ugly fashion. They were in horrible shape against the Jets in his comeback game and he played a big role in the team grabbing the loser point. Excluding the two games he was suspended for, the Leafs have gone 4-0-1 in his appearances since, and he’s scored in all and had multi-point games in all but one (“just” the one goal in the 3-2 shootout loss in Boston).
I’m not in the dressing room, but he seems to have taken on a leadership role among the forward group. That was probably the case last season, but he seems to be relishing the opportunity in front of him to help lead this team to somewhere it hasn’t gone as an organization in far too many years (when they get there, Lupul’s 39 games of experience will be the most the team has in any one player). It was also interesting to hear Lupul speak about the fans “finally coming to life now that the team has given them reason to believe. The tone in which he said it sounded to me like he had taken note of an at-times lacking atmosphere in the ACC while stuck in the press box. A few gestures toward the fans following his goals, in an effort to liven up the crowd, has confirmed my suspicion. He’s got a leader’s personality and he’s taken on a ambassador-like role for the team between his Twitter presence, the frequency with which he interviews (or takes on painful acting roles), and his Lupes Troops initiative.
A lot can and will change over the next four years, but, as far as earning that new contract goes, he certainly seems up to the challenge early.