The Leafs hit the midway point of their season with a good (but scary) win over the Detroit Red Wings tonight. It began so, so well for Toronto scoring 3 goals in the first period. It began with Phil Kessel on a breakaway and drawing the penalty shot. Phil Kessel comes in on the penalty shot and dekes out Howard and buries it. 1-0. Then at about 8:12 into the game, Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg goes off for a clear holding the stick penalty on countryman Carl Gunnarsson. Not even 10 seconds into the powerplay, Dion Phaneuf blows a slapshot past Jimmy Howard. 2-0. Midway through the 1st, the Leafs break out on a 3-on-2 which ends with Lupul feeding David Steckel and Steckel finishes it. 3-0. The second period is where things began going downhill. The Red Wings came out flying and the Leafs weren’t ready for it. The Wings’ first tally came on a Todd Bertuzzi deflection (that I thought was too high, but I can’t do anything about it). 3-1. Late in the 2nd the Wings cut the lead to 1. Johan Franzen comes into the Leafs zone, goes around the net, leaves it for Niklas Kronwall who drives hard to the net and pots it. 3-2. Into the third and you just knew it was coming, Jiri Hudler left all alone in front of the net. 3-3. Now, if you’ve watched the Leafs this year, you know that they have done a GREAT job at holding lead going into the 3rd, in fact the Leafs haven’t lost a game when leading after 2 periods. Tonight kind of worried me in the sense that it is the Red Wings and the Leafs have been looking shaky ever since the 2nd, but Joffrey Lupul got my confidence back by burying a very pretty goal. 4-3. And that’s the way it would end. The Leafs still have not lost a game when leading after 2 periods.
Onto the stuff:
- The first star of tonight’s game was Joffrey Lupul. He was terrific tonight. With 1 goal and 1 assist he paced the offense and pretty much handed David Steckel his goal. Lupul is finally the recognition from the media that he deserves from earlier in the year and is now tied for 3rd in points.
- Of course, if Lupul has a good game, it usually means Phil Kessel did too. Tonight was no different. He started the offense by scoring a beautiful goal on the penalty shot, then grabbing the secondary assist on Steckel’s goal. Kessel has been on a tear all year and is tied for 2nd in points and in goals, too.
- In a surprise move, Jake Gardiner (boom, keeps the Gardiner mention streak alive) was scratched so Mike Komisarek could return to the lineup. He was awesome tonight. Before getting hurt, he was having his best season as a Leaf by far. I was a little worried that he would be a little rusty tonight. He showed no signs of rust logging 21 minutes of ice-time (3rd most on the team) and was very physical on the Wings’ top players all game.
- I mentioned him here last game, and he did it again. Carl Gunnarsson was, once again, very good. He has been very underrated all year playing with a big-time player like Dion Phaneuf, Gunnarsson didn’t get to show off a lot. He’s been stringing a bunch of good games in a row and tonight he had the most minutes on the team and was very good both ways.
- The final player here may be a surprise, but Jonas Gustavsson was the reason the Leafs won tonight. He did give up 3 goals, but he stopped 37 shots on the way to picking up his 12th win and probably earning the start in the next game. Coach Ron Wilson said after the game that Gustavsson should have been the #1 star, and I agree. He was big all night and has been for the last few games.
Honorable Mentions: Dion Phaneuf, David Steckel, Cody Franson.
- If you know me, you know this PAINS me to do this, but Luke Schenn wasn’t very good tonight. In fact, he had the lowest total ice-time on the entire team. He had been playing fairly well leading up to tonight but I guess everyone has thier bad games, and this might have just been a bad game for Schenn.
- One player I didn’t really notice tonight, Darryl Boyce. I’m a big Boyce fan. He hustles, blocks shots, wins face-offs. Tonight I just didn’t like his game. He didn’t seem to have his usual jump.
- One player I was happy to see back, Mike Brown, but tonight, I wasn’t so happy to see him back. Just like Boyce, for Brown to be effective, he has to use his speed and be physical. Brown wasn’t doing that. It might just be rust after being off for so long.
So with the win, the Leafs improve to 21-15-5 good for 47 points and 7th in the Eastern Conference. The Leafs’ next game will be Tuesday vs. Buffalo in Toronto. It will be the first game of a home-and-home (that spans 4 days, apperently) that will be key in the season. They need to get at least 2 points out of those two games to keep up. Like I said earlier, expect Gustavsson to start as Wilson is really showing a lot of confidence in him now. One more fun fact, the Leafs haven’t given up a PP goal yet in 2012. This, makes me happy. Go Leafs Go!