Will It Be A December To Remember In Toronto?

With Saturday’s disappointing defeat in Boston, the Leafs put an up-and-down November squarely in the rearview mirror. While it wasn’t exactly the sizzling 7-3-1 record they pulled off in October, a strong showing on the road salvaged the month for the Buds, and saw them post a .500 record in a month that has seen them crumble and fall to the bottom of the division in the past few seasons. The 7-7-1 November might have gone a  little differently if they hadn’t been manhandled by the Bruins on 3 occasions, but a 7-4-1 record against teams that weren’t currently defending the Stanley Cup with a 12-0-1 month of their own (the first time Boston had put together such a string of games in something like 30 years) is nothing to be upset about.

November saw Joffrey Lupul find his stride even stronger than he had in the opening 11 games, ripping off 7 goals and 12 points and tearing through a 7-game point streak to close out the month. His streak unfortunately came to an end on Saturday, but he remains 3rd among NHL scorers with 30 points through the first 26 games of the season, obviously on pace for a career year. The impressive part of the month for the Leafs was not that they put together a .500 record and stayed in the early season playoff race. What was impressive was that they did it without the services of a number of key players – Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur, Colby Armstrong, James Reimer, Mike Komisarek, Carl Gunnarsson, Dave Steckel, Mike Brown and Matthew Lombardi all either spent or are still spending time on the injured list, but the boys got contributions from all over the lineup and once Jonas Gustavsson settled in after a rocky start to the month, the club was able to right the ship.

Now, for what lies ahead. The Leafs got December off to a bad start with their 4th loss of the season to the Bruins, but we don’t have to worry about them for another three months, so there’s no reason to fret about the team’s inability to solve either the B’s defense or their goaltending. Things don’t get too easy though, as the Buds finish off their father-son road trip in New York against the red-hot Rangers tonight. The Leafs’ 8-6-0 road record will be put to the test, as 7 of their remaining 12 games in 2011 are away from the ACC. After the Rangers, the Leafs will make trips to both Washington (where Dale Hunter and the Caps will look to avenge the beating they took in Toronto) and Buffalo for the team’s first meeting, sandwiched around home games with the Devils and Hurricanes. A three game homestand will see the Buds host the Kings, Canucks and Sabres, before they close the month with a 4-game road trip starting on Long Island and taking them through Florida, Carolina and Winnipeg.

Again, like this month, some challenging games, and some ones that should be expected to be winnable. Thirteen games for the month, 4 of which (including Saturday’s loss to Boston) are against teams currently higher than the Leafs in the standings. While records aren’t always the most accurate indicators of a team’s current status, given the teams on the docket, I’d say 8 or 9 wins over the next 12 games would obviously be a huge success. Getting Reimer back should obviously be a huge boost to the club, and if Gustavsson can keep the confident and strong play he came up with over the last two weeks, the Leafs will finally have a nice little 1-2 punch between the pipes.

The first line is scoring, and while Nikolai Kulemin hasn’t broken outta his goal-scoring drought, you have to think that day will come eventually, and hopefully sooner than later. One thing the Leafs did very well before their home and home with the Bruins was distribute their scoring up and down the lineup. If they can maintain that balanced scoring attack and forget just about everything they did in their games against Boston, stringing together a few wins in December shouldn’t be a problem. (Yes, they sit at a -2 goal differential at the moment, but if you take out the -17 differential they hold against Boston, that number suddenly looks a whole lot better) Should be an exciting month, to say the least.

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Topics: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Carl Gunnarsson, Carolina Hurricanes, Clarke MacArthur, Colby Armstrong, Dave Steckel, Florida Panthers, James Reimer, Joffrey Lupul, Jonas Gustavsson, Los Angeles Kings, Matthew Lombardi, Mike Brown, Mike Komisarek, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Nikolai Kulemin, Phil Kessel, Tim Connolly, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets

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