Well, that was a bit of a snoozer, but the Leafs win 2-1 vs the Carolina Hurricanes to snap their 2 game losing skid! It was a scoreless game all the way into the 3rd period, when Tim Connolly with a beautiful deflection tips it past Cam Ward (more on him later) to take the 1-0 lead. Then, a short time later, Joffrey Lupul takes a high-sticking penalty. We all know what that means! Yes, a penalty kill for the Maple Leafs! I’ll be honest, the PK wasn’t that bad tonight, killing off 2 earlier penalties in the games. But they couldn’t stop a 3rd ‘Canes powerplay and it was former Leaf (who else would it be…) Alexei Ponikarovsky in front of the net to make it 1-1. Then in overtime Joffrey Lupul with a shot down the wing that trickles past Ward, but not in, after it was slightly cleared out by the Hurricanes Lupul pushes it back through the crease and Connolly bangs it home to win it for the Leafs. The Leafs were dominating throughout the game (outshooting the ‘Canes 38-19) but Cam Ward was outstanding all game long and probably should have been the first star over Tim Connolly, despite his 2 goal game.
Now, as usual, The Good and The Bad:
- This one has to be the most obvious, Tim Connolly had a very strong game scoring the only 2 goals for the Leafs, including the OT winner. I’ve said it before, if Connolly stay healthy, there’s no reason he couldn’t put up 60+ points.
- He didn’t score tonight but, Phil Kessel had a very strong game. He had 4 shots and played 20 minutes. He generated good coring chances for his teammates as they almost scored very late thanks to Kessel’s play.
- He just continues to be a solid presence on the blueline. Yes, Jake Gardiner had yet another strong game for the Leafs tonight. He lead the Leafs in ice-time with 24 minutes. He hasn’t scored a goal yet, but he’s had some great chances. He’s been getting good looks on the powerplay and even strength. He’ll score eventually, and it will be a good moment in the season.
- One guy who knows what it’s like to be in a goaless drought, Nikolai Kulemin has had such tough luck this year. Tonight, in my opinion, was his strongest game of the year despite not scoring a goal or recording an assist. Like Ron Wilson said after the game, Kulemin was noticeable on every shift and eventually, the pucks will go in.
- I mentioned Gardiner already, so I can’t forget his defensive partner Luke Schenn. When Schenn is effective, you rarely hear him being mentioned unless it’s a big hit. Tonight was no different. Schenn was solid defensively all game and looks like he has definitely shaken out of his slow start.
- One of the more underrated players for the Leafs this year has been Matt Frattin. His numbers aren’t spectacular but his play has been solid. Tonight, he had a nice hit on Ponikarovsky and generated a nice scoring chance. It seem he always does that, at least one good hit and scoring chance a game.
- One interesting state I heard before the game was that with captain Dion Phaneuf in the lineup, the Leafs are 17 games above .500 (after tonight, it’s 18). Playing in his 500th NHL game, Dion had a good game with a team leading 5 shots and 2nd most ice-time. Tonight was one of the rare occasions that Phaneuf didn’t lead the team in ice-time.
- I hate to rag on him because I’ve done it so much, but why is Phillippe Dupuis still in the lineup game after game? He was brought in as a PK specialist, but he hasn’t helped the Leafs much as they are dead last in PK %. He never converts his scoring chances, just like tonight where he had a gift. This man is literally Rickard Wallin 2.0. Boyce, Rosehill, even Orr would be better options.
- He’s had some good games recently but, tonight Cody Franson just didn’t seem to have it. His shot didn’t seem to have its same boom and his defensive play was lacking. I don’t expect him to be an all-world defender but, it was worse than usual.
- I’ve (also) said this before, Tyler Bozak is not a #1 NHL centre. The reason he is the #1 and not Tim Connolly is because Bozak has great chemistry with Kessel and Lupul. Tonight, it was obvious why he should be a 3rd line centre. When he’s not clicking with Kessel and Lupul, that’s like dead weight on the top line. Wilson needs to put Connolly in at #1 quick.
So that wraps it up. The Leafs improve to 16-11-3 and now have 35 points, and are 3 points back of 5th place Pittsburgh with a game in hand. Also, with their OT loss to Ottawa, the Sabres are now 2 points back of Toronto with the same amount of games played (30). The Leafs next game is Friday in Buffalo vs. the Sabres. This will be the Leafs’ first game vs. the division rival Sabres.