Sorry for the post-Christmas hiatus, as I’ve been both sick and stupid-busy at work all week. In the meantime, the Leafs hit a bit of a skid, dropping three straight games and picking up just one point in matches against Florida, Carolina and Winnipeg. Of course, all of that came on the heels of Ron Wilson’s contract extension, which hasn’t done him any favors with his numerous critics. James Reimer has been under fire for some less-than-stellar play since Christmas, and the Jonas Gustavsson fans were none too happy with him getting the start in his home province against Winnipeg on New Year’s Eve. Of course, the biggest problem has been the penalty killing, which was, as it has been, absolutely awful all week. OK, so did I miss anything? No wins for Wilson, bad goaltending and horrendous penalty killing – check, check, check. Oh yeah, and the Leafs’ December slide dropped them to 10th in the Eastern Conference by year’s end.
Moving on. Tonight was the Leafs’ chance to make it all go away, or at least make it stop, as the new year saw the Leafs start a near-playoff run last year from a much worse position in the standings. With 9 home games in January, they’ll have more than a fighting chance to make a climb back up the standings and tonight was where that all had to start. Thankfully, the woes that have beset the Leafs all last week all seemed to disappear tonight against the Lightning, as the Buds were perfect on the PK, got solid goaltending from the Monster and finally got Wilson another win, albeit in wild fashion.
- Joffrey Lupul had a great game, netting himself a goal and 3 assists. His goal wasn’t the prettiest he’s scored, but to answer the Lightning’s opening salvo as quickly as he did was a huge tone-setter for the rest of the game.
- Phil Kessel added to his goal total with a somewhat meaningless tally at the end of the game, but he moves to 22 goals on the year, 2nd behind Steven Stamkos, who has 27 after his marker tonight.
- A great effort from the Monster between the pipes. Only 21 saves on 24 shots, but the three goals were all the products of solid offense and not the lax goaltending we’ve often come to expect.
- The penalty kill was perfect, against a powerplay unit that features some highly talented weapons and the best one-timer in the league. 5-for-5 won’t get them out of the league basement in that department just yet, but it’s a good start. 19 blocked shots, including 4 from captain Dion Phaneuf is a big reason for that success.
- The youth movement continues in Toronto, as Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin combined for a goal and 3 points. Kadri drew the penalty that led to Lupul’s powerplay goal, and had yet another solid game. Good to see Frattin get a goal even after being demoted to the 4th line.
- A big game from Mikhail Grabovski - a goal and an assist – as well as Tim Connolly (2 assists).
- Some shoddy defensive coverage led to the goals that Tampa Bay did score tonight. Pavel Kubina’s goal was the result of him being left all alone on an entire half of the rink, while Stamkos benefited from a bad line change and a neutral zone turnover. All credit to Vincent Lecavalier for that first goal – it was a thing of beauty.
- As good as the PK was, the Leafs need to be a lot more careful with giving teams as many chances as they have with the man advantage. Some stupid penalties tonight, including a too many men on the ice call, could have turned this game in a vastly different direction.
- On a non-Leafs’ note, Team Canada was just defeated by the Russians at the World Juniors. The Canadians came back from being down 6-1 in the 3rd, but were doomed by a shot off the post late in the game.
Topics: James Reimer, Joffrey Lupul, Jonas Gustavsson, Matt Frattin, Mikhail Grabovski, Nazem Kadri, Pavel Kubina, Phil Kessel, Ron Wilson, Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning, Team Canada, Tim Connolly, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vincent Lecavalier, World Junior Championships