The Toronto Maple Leafs continued their winning ways on the road, dropping the toothless Florida Panthers 3 – 0 on Monday night. Ben Scrivens made 37 saves in his second consecutive shutout and the Buds were buoyed by goals from Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri and Clarke MacArthur. The win was the Leafs second in a row, and broke a 5-game losing streak in Sunrise, Florida.
1. The Leafs are 10 – 6 – 0 and have won 8 of their last 11 games. It’s only 1/3 of the way through the season, but this team has a +10 goal differential and has been nigh unbeatable on the road. With 20 points, the Buds are tied with the Boston Bruins for second in the division (though the Bruins have 3 games in hand).
2. With three minutes left in the first period, James van Riemsdyk breaks up a cross-ice pass at the Leafs blue line, and feeds a streaking Phil Kessel who bolts down the left wing and snipes short side over Jose Theodore’s glove to give the Leafs a 1 – 0 lead. The goal was Kessel’s third of the season and first at even strength. And it’s a damn beauty.
3. Despite carrying a lead into the second period, the Leafs sure had trouble deploying their systems against the Panthers for much of the first 40. The Leafs appeared to respond poorly to Florida’s fore check, with Franson, Holzer, Grabovski and Brown all turning over the puck over at the point in the first period alone. Were it not for Ben Scrivens’ acrobatics in net, the Leafs could have been down early in the game.
4. Carl Gunnarsson made his return to the lineup after missing 8 games with a groin injury sustained prior to the season. Gunnarsson’s most notable contribution was another turnover at the blue line seconds into the middle frame that led to a good scoring chance. His play was tentative and sloppy at first, but he re-acclimated by the third frame, playing over 22 minutes and getting a nice scoring chance on the power play.
5. Sitting for Gunnarsson was John Michael Liles, who was scratched after putting up 2 points in his previous 9 games. He joins Mike Komisarek, who has watched the past 8 games from the press box. With the Leafs rolling, it will be interesting to see what becomes of the veteran American defenders. The Leafs are getting wins with Holzer, Fraser and Kostka in the lineup, and with Gunnarsson back and Gardiner nearing a return, their opportunities for ice time will be limited. Komisarek is already a prime amnesty buyout candidate in the offseason, and with three years at $3.875 million, Liles may well join him in the discussion. From timing to roster analysis and management, the Liles extension remains one of the blackest marks on Brian Burke’s record from his time here.
6. Nazem Kadri buries a pretty feed from Dion Phaneuf behind the net to make it 2 – 0. It was his fifth goal of the season and fourth on the power play and came on the heels of some particularly bad play from the Leafs. Not done for the night, minutes later Kadri fed a wide open Clarke MacArthur who wired a shot past Theodore to make it 3 – 0. He’s been a revelation this season with 14 points in 16 games, even without bromantic partner Matt Frattin on his wing. Kessel was being double shifted on his line, and I’d love to see the Leafs two leading scorers develop more chemistry together.
7. Ben Scrivens had another incredible night in net for Toronto, with 37 saves en route to his second consecutive shutout. Heading back to Thursday against Carolina, Scrivens has played 144:51 straight minutes without allowing a goal. His puck handling remains a nightmare, but he’s been dominant in relief of James Reimer (who, by the way, will resume on ice workouts this week). Perhaps the biggest success story of this young Leafs season has been their goaltending, a statement both optimistic and cautionary. The goaltending isn’t always going to perform so admirably.
8. Aside from Tyler Bozak, the Leafs centres couldn’t buy a faceoff win at all tonight. It was painful to see how faceoff loss after faceoff loss crushed any chance for the Leafs to gain much momentum from their play. Better teams that the Panthers would have used a solid possession game to punish the Leafs, and with noted faceoff ace David Steckel not playing, the club is playing with fire.
9. The penalty kill is over 80% and heating up, killing off all three chances tonight and 19 of their last 20. Chalk it up to goaltending, or chalk it up to the law of averages, but it’s a sight for sore eyes. The power play remains an oddity, with the Leafs going 9 for 36 (with a goal tonight) on the road and only 2 for 35 at home.
10. Scrivens and Kadri were great, Kessel and MacArthur were good and the Florida Panthers were terrible tonight. This was a should-win game, and the Leafs did what they ought to against fairly listless competition. They’ll look to make it three wins in a row tomorrow night against a more fearsome foe, when they take on the resurgent Tampa Bay Lightning.