We’re at the quarter pole of the NHL season, and the Leafs are tied for first in the Northeast Division. They own the most productive offensive duo in the league in Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, who after huge games last night are 1st and 3rd in NHL scoring with 27 and 24 points respectively. Three powerplay goals last night in their 7-1 rout over Washington, extending their powerplay production streak to three games, brings the Leafs‘ PP up to sixth in the league at 20.5 percent. The PK is killing at 89 percent in the last eight games. It’s been an up and down ride through 20 games, to say the least, but these are accomplishments, or improvements, to take pride in. But the Leafs can’t afford to reflect on and enjoyÂ any of that, or their best performance of the season last night, as amazingly just four points separates them from last in their division, and 12th in the East. Besides, they’re in Carolina this afternoon for their second game in less than 24 hours.
There has yet to be a confirmed starter reported, though Ron Wilson indicated we would see Scrivens and Gustavsson split the starts before the weekend. Splitting the goalie starts in a back to back situation would be standard protocol for most teams, but there’s an argument to made for allowing Gustavsson to try to build off his 40-save performance last night. It’s a decision that is likely to get overscrutinized either way (Update: Scrivens will start as planned, according to James Mirtle).
As the Leafs try to deal with major injury problems, the question, besides the ongoing one in net, will be if the Leafs can get secondary scoring beyond the Lupul/Kessel tandem. Matt Frattin breaking the goose egg and Dave Steckel chipping in last night are both promising signs, but can the secondary cast get the Leafs some important goals when they really need it, in a tight game, when Kessel and Lupul have been shut down or aren’t getting the bounces? Most promising, if he can stay healthy, is that Tim Connolly now has six points in eight games this season after scoring last night. Connolly producing in a second line role is going to be important in easing some of the pressure and attention on Kessel and Lupul while Grabovski and MacArthur, and to a lesser extent Armstrong and Lombardi, are out.
Led by the struggling Eric Staal (8 points, -18 this season), the Hurricanes are a basement dwellerÂ so far this season, and that will teach them for picking up the post-lockout Leafs’ leftovers (Ponikarovsky, Tlusty, Kaberle, Harrison, and Brent are all on the Canes roster). Nonetheless, this is the Leafs’ second game in under 24 hours with some travel in between. It will take a gutsy effort to complete the weekend sweep.