Courtesy of Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Through a season of inconsistencies, the one thing that has remained constant for the Maple Leafs is the production of Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel. The duo surely formed one of, if the best, forward duet in the league, consistently tussling with the Sedins for the highest scoring pair (they’re trailing the race by a single point currently). All the while still keeping pace in the Art Ross race individually, as well. With all the success created and sustained, it was at one time far-fetched to believe the two could be split him for any reason.

With a three game losing streak in hand – one that all but made the Leafs four game win streak irrelevant – Ron Wilson made the peculiar coaching decision to split them up. And early progress reports signify it could turn out for the better.

In an ideal world, Wilson was most likely seeking balance throughout his lineup, and splitting up the pair that accounts for just about 40% of your goals is a good start. One thing often said about the combination of the two is that each is dependent on one another. Well, this made for a great opportunity to see how both of them would do apart.

Lupul’s a prototypical power-forward with an added element of finesse – he’s a good skater, does a great job of protecting the puck, and has surprisingly soft hands. With these skills, he’s always been great at being dominant down low and near the crease, and being in the right place at the right time. However, because of his overwhelming success doing these things here, we’ve never really received an opportunity to watch Lupul be the offensive catalyst on a line. Also added to the fact is that he had Bozak on his line as well, which made Lupul’s presence defensively of even greater importance.

With Connolly and Kadri, he’s gotten that chance. Playing with Connolly should allow Lupul to open up a little bit more and work with the creativity Kadri brings to the table. It’s also important to note that all three players are solid forming a cycle or base down low, which is where Lupul is at his best. This creates a ‘behind the net’ offensive tactic, where two players are down low cycling the puck, and the third is waiting in the low slot to either jump in and aid the cycle, or pinch back.

We saw this in it’s best form under a minute into the game, on Kadri’s goal. Lupul and Kadri passed back and forth a few times, then Lupul took over, deking a few Wild players en route to tossing it back towards the net. There, we saw Kadri waiting, as well as Connolly pinching in from the slot to add an extra man to the attack.

Another example of Lupul’s almost hidden puck possessions skills was late in the first, where he grabbed the puck from Crabb (I believe, if I’m not mistaken, could be wrong) at the hash-marks of the defensive zone and continued to carry it up ice. He drove to the outside, then cut in quickly and made a few moves to allude two defenders before losing the puck. Was a goal generated? No, even a shot wasn’t generated, but what we should take out of that is the potential of Lupul being the go-to guy on a line.

It’s only been one game for sure; however, early signs look positive (3 points in one game, new leading Leafs point getter?!), and the dynamic of exposing Lupul’s finesse game with his grinding game could go a long way in asserting himself as more than just second fiddle to Phil Kessel.



A new Leafs site opened up yesterday

– Help Keeyan get started by checking out his site, “Everything Leafs“.

What’s next with Kadri?

– VLM looks at what’s next for the youngster. He’s been through a lot for a 21 year old rookie.

Looking ahead to the deadline

– Jeff Veillette tries to convince us that defense should be upgraded before offense. I agree with him.

Leafs in the Winter Classic?!

– DGB analyzes the pros and cons

What does it take to make the playoffs?

– Dante from We Want A Cup takes a close look

The latest from PPP’s top-25 under-25

– Greg McKegg, always a player I’ve been keen about, but received mixed reports on, this helped settle the dust.

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