The Toronto Maple Leafs brought their “A” game tonight in Pittsburgh, even though they lost one of their “A”s in the process. Alternate captain Joffrey Lupul left the second period with a fractured forearm and will likely miss 6-8 weeks, but his teammates picked up the slack to outgun the potent Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-2. Here are a few of the highlights of the Maple Leafs’ second win of the season:
The Maple Leafs’ new-look second line of James van Riemsdyk, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin led the way with a combined 8 points on the night. Van Riemsdyk scored his first two goals in a Leafs uniform and also picked up an assist in what was by far his best game this season. Grabovski added a goal and an assist, while Kulemin picked up three helpers. JVR’s first goal came as a result of a great drive to the net and pass by Kulemin. His second goal came from a bad giveaway by Evgeni Malkin in the Penguins zone, stealing the puck and promptly firing it home past a surprised Marc-Andre Fleury for what would be the game-winning goal. Grabovski widened the lead with a slap shot from above the face-off circle off a deflected Kulemin pass and the rest was history. Much of the Leafs breakout offensively in this game came as a result of the fine play of the second line.
James Reimer looked in mid-season form for the most part tonight, picking up 28 saves on 30 shots in his first game in exactly ten months. He looked a little shaky on both of Pittsburgh’s goals, but for the second-half of the game settled down and made some pretty good saves. Evgeni Malkin had a power-play goal from a sharp angle in the first period, and Sidney Crosby scored on a breakaway early in the second after some sloppy puck management by Grabovski and Dion Phaneuf. The goals were the first of the year for both Malkin and Crosby, but none of the other offensive threats for the Pens were able to find the score sheet. Reimer also had some nervous moments handling the puck outside his crease, but some rust can be expected after the long layoff. You couldn’t have asked for much more from Reimer tonight, and he delivered with the win.
The score sheet may not reflect it, but Phil Kessel was flying all over the ice tonight. He had five shots on the night and was robbed on a couple of occasions by Fleury as his scoring slump stretched to three games. But Leafs fans can be encouraged that Kessel seems to be an improved player in all three zones, and was the best player on the ice for many of his shifts. It’s a tough injury for Lupul, but it’s no secret that Kessel was driving play on that line anyway, and Clarke MacArthur was able to fill in nicely, chipping in a goal and an assist. Bozak had another nice game at both ends of the rink, winning 55 percent of his face-offs and adding a goal.
Jake Gardiner, in a bit of a surprise move, was dressed for tonight’s game, and played well after sitting out more than a month. He was fifth among Leafs’ defensemen in ice time and is clearly being eased back into the NHL, but he looked comfortable out there. Barring any setbacks from the concussion, expect Gardiner’s minutes to climb as the season goes on.
It’s a quick turnaround for the Leafs as they head home to take on the New York Islanders tomorrow night. Stay tuned for full game day coverage tomorrow on Editor In Leaf.