Toronto Maple Leafs 2010-11: Week 15

Published by Mark on Sunday, January 16, 2011 — View Comments

TORONTO, CANADA - JANUARY 6: Kris Versteeg #32...

There’s something happening here… what it is ain’t exactly clear… – Buffalo Springfield

On December 12, the Leafs sat 11-14-4, 26 points, 13th in the East, 28th overall. Coming off a win at home against Montreal, they embarked on a Western Canadian swing, looking to take at least 2 of 3 to try to salvage a playoff run. And while they avenged an earlier loss to Edmonton, they dropped games to Calgary and Vancouver, returned home and lost to Atlanta on December 20. Christmas hit with Toronto on a 3 game losing streak, headed to Jersey for Boxing Day almost 2 full weeks since their last win.

While it hasn’t exactly been ‘A Christmas Miracle!’, something seems to have happened to this Leaf team. They went into Jersey and handily beat the Devils. Normally the Leafs would fold against a team they ‘should’ beat. After a long travel delay, they returned home to play well, narrowly losing to Carolina, then a flop against Columbus. There were signs that maybe things weren’t so bad. The second line was still clicking along, players seemed ready to return from injury, and the Leafs were making fewer mistakes. New Year’s Day, HNIC and another team the Leafs need to catch and pass, Ottawa. With a call up starting in net, and a makeshift first line of Kessel, Bozak and Crabb, Toronto grabs a 5-1 win. A tough loss in a well-played home game to Boston, a shootout win against a determined St Louis Blues team. Then, another tough travel day to Atlanta, where they scored 5 powerplay goals and dummied the Thrashers 9-3. Since Christmas, Toronto has gone 4-3-0, outscoring opponents 29-19, winning 3 straight on the road. The week begins in California to take on LA and San Jose.

Of late the Kings have been struggling and are beginning to slip out of the playoff picture. Wayne Simmonds opened up the scoring in the first as LA outshot Toronto 8-5. But 2:27 into the second, Boyce scored his second of the season to even it up. A pass from Crabb to Kessel 34 seconds later ended up behind Jon Quick and the Leafs led 2-1. Michal Handzus tied it before the period ended. In the 3rd, Kulemin hooked up with Grabovski and MacArthur to continue their hot streak and put the Leafs up 3-2 5 minutes into the period. Kings threw all they had at James Reimer, getting his 4th start since January 1. But Reimer was up to the task, turning away 17 shots, including a 6-on-4 for the last 1:42 to win 3-2.

The Sharks are another team struggling in the west to solidify their playoff position. For the Leafs though, this game would be a test. The Sharks a formidable opponent, and Toronto has not won in San Jose in 14 years. Further, Ron Wilson was attempting to get his 600th NHL win. Patrick Marleau spotted the Sharks the 1-0 lead halfway through the first. Things got a little ugly in the second as Colton Orr kneed Logan Couture, forcing the rookie out of the game. That penalty at 9:25 was the first of 4 called in a 3:03 span, 3 of them against Toronto. But, Reimer and the Leafs weathered the storm, and set the stage for a third period comeback. Kessel outwaited everyone to score into an open cage. He seems to finally have found some chemistry with Bozak and Crabb on his line. Not to be outdone, MacArthur notched a powerplay backhander over Antti Niemi. Marleau scored again to knot it up, but at 10:10 Carl Gunnarsson tipped a Dion Phaneuf shot into the net for the winner. MacArthur added an empty net goal to seal the 600th win of Wilson’s career and extend the winning streak to 4 games.

Off the ice, word Wednesday of a minor deal for the Leafs. Burke acquired Fabian Brunnstrom from Dallas in return for Mikhail Stefanovich. Brunnstrom was a highly sought after free agent from Sweden, and the Leafs were one of the teams interested in his services. He gained notoriety by scoring a hat trick in his first NHL game. In 55 games he scored 17 goals and 29 points his first season. But Brunnstrom fell out of favour with Stars management after 2009-10, when he had 11 points in 44 games with Dallas, and 5 points in 8 games with AHL affiliate Texas. This season, he had 21 points in 37 games, all in the AHL. Stefanovich was a 4th round pick of the Leafs in 2008. After putting up good numbers with Quebec of the QMJHL, Stefanovich played only 6 games this season split between Reading of the ECHL and the Marlies. He was with Dynamo Minsk of the KHL and appeared not to be in Toronto’s plans going forward. Brunnstrom was assigned to the Marlies, where he had 2 assists in his first game. This is a depth move by Burke, to help the Marlies into the playoffs, and Brunnstrom will be a free agent at season end.

Rounding out the road trip, Reimer got his fourth consecutive start, and the lineup was juggled. Out with injury were Versteeg and Sjostrom, replaced by Mike Brown and Brett Lebda moving up to wing. Giguere returned to back up Reimer, forcing Gustavsson to the pressbox. Whether it was the lineup, or just the fatigue of playing 3 games in 4 nights, the Leafs were just not up to the task. Though the Leafs outshot the Coyotes 17-12 over the first 2 periods, a powerplay goal by Radim Vrbata 2:05 in was the only scoring until the third period. The game got chippy, as a couple incidents flared up. Brown levelled Ed Jovanovski with a shoulder to the head (Jovo was lunging forward, his head lowered and Brown caught him blindside). No penalty was called, but Jovocop left the game due to an injury suffered during the hit. From a Leaf perspective, a few calls were missed. During a scuffle with Clarke MacArthur (where CMac got a double minor), Lauri Korpikoski kicked his skate straight up at MacArthur from a prone position. No call was made. In the third, a potential dangerous play where Beauchemin was tripped into the boards by Setoguchi, Beauchemin got the penalty for his retailiation cross-check. Regardless, the Leafs wilted in the third, as Phoenix scored 3 more to get out front 4-0 with 10 minutes left. Colby Armstrong got one back, but the game was done save for Keith Yandle scoring to make it a 5-1 final, ‘yotes.

I have my doubts that it had anything to do with the loss, but James Reimer was sent back to the Marlies on Friday. It simply came down to the roster and who had options to be sent back. Mike Brown was suspended 4 games for his hit on Jovanovski. Needing a forward, the Leafs called up Marcel Mueller, and that required a roster spot. Carrying 3 goalies at this point was simply not an option.

Saturday the Calgary Flames came calling. Neither being a great team, the Leafs returning home after a long trip, and Calgary in the middle of an eastern swing, this game was lacklustre to say the least. JS Giguere got the start. Flames outshot the Leafs 11-6 in the first, 11-6 in the second, and each team had a powerplay opportunity in each period. Finally, with 7 minutes left in the game, on a scramble in front, returning Matt Stajan scored his 3rd goal of the year. The Leafs pressed a bit, outshooting Calgary 18-7 in the third. On a powerplay and with Giguere on the bench, Grabovski finally tied it to get the Leafs a point. Overtime solved nothing, even though Calgary got a powerplay, and Bozak had a shorthanded breakaway to try to win it. Ultimately, Olli Jokinen scored the winning shootout goal.

Toronto Maple Leafs record: 18-21-5 for 41 points. Eastern Conference 12th, 26th overall.

Hot Leafs: MacArthur (2G, 2A), Kulemin (G, 3A)

Leading scorer: MacArthur (37 pts)
Goals: Kessel (19)
Assists: Kaberle (28)
PIM: Orr (104)
Wins: Giguere (8)
GAA: Reimer (2.26)
Sv%: Reimer (0.933)

This week: A visit to the Rangers on Wednesday, then at home to Anaheim Thursday and Washington Saturday.