Fourth time—s a charm for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2012 with a 2 — 0 win over the Buffalo Sabres. The Monster stood tall again tonight and the club remains undefeated in what is clearly a sign of end times. Neither Lupul nor Kessel tallied a point tonight, because who needs them when the USSR is back to its scoring ways.
1. The Leafs are 22 — 15 — 5, the goal differential continues to climb favourably and the Leafs got all their offense from non first line sources. And their stars aren—t afraid throw hands with midgets as witnessed by Joffrey Lupul—s scrum with Lilliputian Nathan Gerbe. Fun game.
2. Nikolai Kulemin scored a rare power play goal tonight, and it was a squeaker at that. He potted the rebound home almost instinctively off of Cody Franson—s point shot. Mikhail Grabovski makes it 2 — 0 on a sweet back hander with just over 2 minutes left in the first. As much as I love the finish, it—s the set up that was best: Kulemin took a hit to get his second point of the night after Joey Crabb spun, stopped and dished just outside the Sabres zone in quick succession.
3. Jonas Gustavsson had another great game tonight, quietly making 32 saves for his second shut out in his past three games. Since being given the start—s duties in favour of James Reimer, the Monster has paced the club to 4 straight wins, a feat not accomplished by a Leafs goalie since Jean-Sebastien Aubin. He—s allowed 6 goals in course of those 4 games, and has seemed even-keeled in leading the Leafs back into the thick of the playoff hunt. Let—s just hope that Gus— run ends better for the club than Aubin—s did. It—s amazing what a high scoring team can do with competent net minding.
4. With the Kulemin goal, the Leafs managed to keep their top 3 powerplay, in spite of an otherwise stagnant showing. Regardless of the positive results, the powerplay looks far more telegraphed with the absence of John-Michael Liles and you—ve got to wonder how much longer the team can keep putting up these primo numbers.
The PK remains perfect for the year, though that was more indicative of the Leafs not being shorthanded against the Sabres tonight. It might not be the greatest solution to the ˜Kill woes, but not taking penalties is a good way to neutralize their terrible special teams play. One thing I noticed from the Sabres kill is that all four players are acutely aware of their teammates on the ice, and find open space to send and receive passes that are in turn wired down the length of the ice. Their method of killing penalties seems far more organic and unified than the more spastic buds PK units
5. Nazem Kadri had an absolutely dreadful shift early in the second period. First he tried dangling through a neutral zone trap, and later tried a no look centering cross ice pass deep in his own zone. The former led to a pick and an icing, the other to a really great scoring chance. He was reprimanded on the bench straightaway, but then sent back out for a powerplay shortly thereafter. Last year, Kadri would have been benched. This year, he took his lumps from Wilson, and responded with creativity attacking the zone, a shot and two big hits. See? The AHL was good for him, and it—s paying dividends for the Leafs. Great to see Wilson keeping faith with the youngster.
6. Kulemin did the world a real solid by laying out Pat Kaleta with a fierce open ice hit. It was a promising night for Kulemin, who still has time to salvage his season. I liked that he cleanly put Kaleta into next week mere minutes after the Sabre took a run at line mate and confidant Mikhail Grabovski. Equally impressive tonight was the fact that his name was heard all over the ice in only 14:51 of ice time.
7. it—s in no way surprising that Dion Phaneuf led the team in ice time tonight with 25:14, as he has most nights. After he and Carl Gunnarsson, no Leaf managed over 19 minutes. Matthew Lombardi was the low water mark, playing just a shade under 12 and half minutes.
Wilson has been rolling 4 lines, and it—s led to 4 wins. The Leafs haven—t had this kind of depth since before the lockout. The era of the 5 minute enforcer is over in Toronto, and the Leafs are a winning club because of it.
8. There were a ton of turnovers in the game. Both teams were guilty of it. Both clubs were fore checking with reckless abandon, and the ice was clearly not helping matters. On an injury ravaged and underperforming team like the Buffalo Sabres, the Leafs could afford a few turnovers, but the counter attack teams like the Bruins (and the Red Wings Saturday) will make you pay dearly for such lazy puck play. Give the opposition nothing. It was puck luck, posts and Gustavsson who saved the Leafs skaters— bacon.
9. The Leafs have had trouble all season long holding leads, losing points in the standings because of it. Tonight they actually managed to play with a lead successfully and visibly so. At its best the Leafs prevent defense does just that, repelling the Sabres attack at the offensive blue line and reclaiming possession. The Leafs also stuck to dump and chase and regularly forced the Sabres to take over puck control 200 feet away from Gustavsson. It shouldn—t be understated how fortunate the Leafs were to not be penalized despite some flagrant fouls and poor in-zone puck management. But who cares about the system when you—ve got the Devil—s own luck on your side?
10. Its not always pretty the way the Leafs are churning out wins and the Sabres proved to be meager competition. There were bad plays and what should have been costly turnovers, but the club tonight proved to bend and then flex back. But it was a Key two points no matter how they come, and the win combined with the Penguins and Jets losses mean that the Leafs have a 4 point cushion on 9th place. And ain—t that sweet.