Toronto Maple Leafs: Week 10
Sunday, December 5, 2010.
Maple Leafs record: 9-12-4, 22 points
Leading scorer: Clarke MacArthur, 25 games, 7G, 12A, 19 pts
No coaching change. No trades imminent. The top prospects, Kadri and Aulie, are already playing with the NHL club. Inconsistent work ethic, inconsistent results. How will this team handle a 4-game week, against 4 Eastern Conference playoff teams?
Maybe too early to say a corner has been turned, but after Monday’s comeback, shootout win over the Capitals, the Leafs are 5-4-1 in their last 10. Building on a win against Boston, the Leafs came out with energy against the conference leaders. It looked like it may not be Toronto’s night, as Gustavsson looked shaky early, having trouble with rebound control. A couple of big rebounds caused the Leafs to scramble, resulting in 2 consecutive penalties. Capitals Mathieu Perreault scored on the powerplay. Clarke MacArthur returned to the scoresheet on a powerplay goal from the slot, but Washington got another from Mike Knuble to lead after 1. As the Capitals can, the second period saw Perreault and Ovechkin score to build a 4-1 lead, though the Leafs continued to press, and the Capitals looked like their lead could be challenged. Gustavsson was able to recover, making some key saves to keep Toronto relatively close. Midway through the third, Kaberle passed into the slot where a waiting Grabovski fired a one-timer past Neuvirth, and a repeat of the comeback against the Caps from a few weeks back looked possible. Late in the game, Kaberle fired a shot that Tim Brent tipped for his long-awaited 3rd of the season. Just 59 seconds later, MacArthur poked his second of the game past Neuvirth to get the Buds to overtime. Nothing would be solved until the shootout, when Grabovski added the winner to his earlier goal and assist.
Wednesday against Pittsburgh the Leafs were simply outmatched by one of the NHL’s top squads. Outshot 13-4 in the first, Gustavsson allowed only 1 goal to the currently sizzling hot Sidney Crosby. Leafs could not capitalize on 2 powerplay opportunities as that facet of Toronto’s game continues to haunt them. Outshot again in the second 11-6, Penguins opened the game up and got 3 goals including a shorty from Pascal Dupuis, then Letetstu and Crosby with his second of the game. Maple Leafs were able to get 2 in the third as Bozak and Grabovski tallied, and maybe it was time to cue the comeback for the third game. But Mark Letestu scored his 2nd of the night, and a chippy third ended with no comeback from the Buds.
The 5-2 loss in Pittsburgh was followed up with a 4-1 loss on home ice to Philly. Captain Dion Phaneuf returned to the lineup. A closer game, but the Leafs allowed the Flyers to build a 2-0 lead with goals 1:19 apart from Ville Leino and Chris Pronger. Danny Briere got 2 in the second around Grabovski’s 3rd in 3 games. The Leafs are still not a team that can consistently play from behind and overcome an opponent’s early lead. The lineup simply lacks the skilled players necessary, and Toronto is unable to take advantage of their offensive chances, let alone create opportunities at will.
A much better effort against Montreal on Saturday. It was Homecoming Night in Toronto, featuring John Bower, Wendel Clark, Darryl Sittler, Bob Nevin, Brad Smith, Tiger Williams, Allan Bester, Mark Osborne, Jim McKenny, Mike Pelyk, Alyn McCauley, Todd Warriner, Steve Thomas and Jimmy Jones in the pre-game. Canadiens lost to Detroit the night previous, and Coach Martin went with Alex Auld for only the 3rd time this season. Leafs finally did take advantage of a tired opponent. Kessel scored his 11th, to break a 7 game slump, while Kaberle finally got his first of the year. It was not quite clear exactly what happened, but MacArthur took offence to something Jaroslav Spacek did, and the 2 fought. Spacek fell awkwardly and suffered an injury, not returning to the game. Canadiens came on a little in the second, Cammalleri scoring a nice goal on Giguere. But that is as close as Montreal would get, and Versteeg would score his 9th into the empty net.
Toronto ends up going 3-2-0 againt the top 5 teams in the Eastern Conference in the last 5 games. Certainly those are unexpeted points for a team still so far out of the playoffs. Leafs will try to carry some of the momentum forward to their western Canada road trip, which sees them play in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver this week.