The Toronto Maple Leafs win ugly (ugly? just like the Islanders jerseys!) 5-3 vs. the New York Islanders to go into the Holiday Break on a winning note and 4 out of 4 points in the back-to-back. It started out great for the Leafs, scoring 3 times in the first 11 minutes. Clarke MacArthur started the scoring with a nice goal to the “top shelf where mamma hides the cookies!” as Buffalo Sabres announcer Rick Jeanneret would say. Then Nazem Kadri gets his second goal in 2 games, and finally Carl Gunnarsson blasts a one-timer to make it 3-0. That was Gunnarsson’s 1st goal since March 22nd, 2011. Then the Islanders break through late in the first on an absolute snipe. 3-1. The Leafs take a late penalty in the first that costs them early in the 2nd as Frans Nielson pots it to make it 3-2. Midway through the second Cody Franson goes off for “high-sticking.” It turns out, the puck actually hit the Islander player in the face, not the stick. But, on the PK, Joey Crabb and Tyler Bozak with some nice passing and Crabb finishes it. 4-2. Things get a little nervous in the 3rd when John Tavares scores to make it 4-3. But, after the Islanders pull their goalie, Lupul dumps it into the Isles zone, Phil Kessel skates hard to get it and pass it in front to Lupul to ice the game, 5-3. Like I said, it wasn’t the prettiest win, but they all count at the end of the day.
Now onto the stuff:
- Once again, Nazem Kadri had a very strong game. He’s showing he really wants to be a full-time NHL player, and he’s playing like it. He’s developing good chemistry with his linemates (more on them in a second) and is showing better puck management, decision making, and even defensive play. If he keeps it up, when the injured guys come back, Kadri will make it very tough for Burke and Wilson to send him down.
- One of Kadri’s linemates, Tim Connolly also had a strong game. With 2 assists (both primary) and a +2 he’s showing why the Maple Leafs signed him in the off-season. I’ve said all year that if Connolly can stay healthy, he’ll be one of the most valuable players on the entire team.
- The other player on that line, Clarke MacArthur, was also very good. He was the first star from the game tonight. Just like his role on the Grabovski-Kulemin-MacArthur line last year, he’s the digger for the skill players like Connolly and Kadri. For the sake of the Maple Leafs, I hope that this line can keep it up so they can take the pressure off Kessel/Lupul.
- I was considering putting Luke Schenn on here for last game, but I didn’t think was that good. Tonight, he was that good. He had the 3rd most minutes on the team and played very Luke Schenn like. Hitting, coverage, minute-eating. Just a very solid game from Schenn.
- The minute leader for your Toronto Maple Leafs last night? Carl Gunnarsson. He scored his first goal since March 22nd. Not known for his scoring, his defensive play definitely warranted those 23+ minutes tonight. He was out there with Phaneuf, Gardiner, Schenn, and Aulie at one point during the game. That not only shows his versatility but Ron Wilson’s confidence in putting him out there with anyone at any time.
- Once again I’m putting all 3 of these guys together. David Steckel, Darryl Boyce, and Joey Crabb all were very good again tonight in small minutes. They seem to just control the puck in the offensive zone. Even thought they probably won’t score, it’s still a great boost for the team to see the 4th liners playing so well.
- I just didn’t like Keith Aulie’s game tonight. He’s a very defensive defenseman, I get that, but he should too. A few times he tried to carry the puck out of the defensive zone and it just wasn’t working for him.
- I don’t say this much but, Dion Phaneuf wasn’t that great tonight. He did get the 2nd most minutes, but I didn’t think he looked that impressive tonight. Luke Schenn is effective when you don’t really notice him. Dion Phaneuf is the opposite. He’s effective when he’s very noticeable. He had a couple nifty plays, but, to me, he just didn’t have it out there.
- He’s been stepping it up lately, but Mikhail Grabovski didn’t seem like his usual self. He was turning it over non-stop, trying to do too much with too little, and shooting it at very odd times. He does do this sometimes, just an odd bad game. Let’s hope it was just that.
- This isn’t a Leaf. It isn’t the referee’s. It’s the camera person at the Nassau Coliseum. They were just brutal. They couldn’t keep up with the play, they wouldn’t show the play in the corners (on the camera’s side). There were also a couple plays where the puck was at the blueline, being held by a defenseman for at least 3 or 4 seconds, and the camera person wouldn’t show it? It was just an odd night in terms of the camera angles.
So the Leafs go into the Holiday Break with a record of 18-13-4, 40 points, and 6th in the East. This is better than where I thought the Leafs would be at this point in the year, probably better than most people thought. If they can do their usual end of the season hot-streak they could really set themselves up well in the playoffs. The Leafs’ next game is Tuesday, December 27th vs. the Florida Panthers in Florida.