Recapping the Toronto Maple Leafs' Amazing Week (Jan 2-8)
Wow. Amazing. Fantastic. Incredible. Superb. Awesome. Improbable. All words can be used to describe and sum up the last week for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Six out of six possible points. Two were needed, four would have been nice, but all six? It was a goal that last week would have seemed unreachable for these Maple Leafs.
But not THESE Maple Leafs. Not the ones who ran up the score against the resilient, never say die Tampa Bay Lightning. Not the Maple Leafs who shut down and shut out the Winnipeg Jets. Not these Maple Leafs who wouldn't let the Red Wings pick up their first victory in Toronto in over ten years.
THESE Maple Leafs are the ones who started out of the gate fast. It's THESE Maple Leafs that will need to show up more often as the season continues if they want to make it to their first playoff appearance since before the lockout. There wasn't much to say that was very bad or very ugly this week, but as an analyst I did find something. Here is this week's Week in Review: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
The Good: Everyone Contributing
The Maple Leafs got goals from a wide range of players this week. It wasn't just Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul contributing this week (although they did accumulate for five of the 15 goals scored this week).
Dion Phaneuf, Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur and others all had a hand in putting the Leafs over the top. Like last week, the MacRussian line got themselves going with a few goals, and this week they continued with the exception of Nikolai Kulemin (although he did pick up an assist). MacArthur and Grabovski are starting to come alive, and that's exactly what was missing in all of December.
The continued tag team of Kessel and Lupul should carry over well into the rest of the season, and the scoring output from the defense is another reason the Leafs have stayed alive in the playoff race. They still have a lot of work to do as the season continues, but they are now just two points away from claiming the fifth spot in the east and five from the fourth spot.
It will be a great and exciting battle the rest of the way if the Leafs get the scoring they need from everyone like they did this week.
The Bad: Not Burying a Team When Given the Chance
The Maple Leafs outplayed all three of their opponents for most of the 60 minutes. They manhandled Winnipeg in the middle of the week, and Jonas Gustavsson recorded his second career shutout. In the first game against Tampa Bay, the Leafs let Tampa stick around through the second period, but they eventually pulled away. In the game against Detroit, they got an early three goal lead, squandered it, and eventually took it back for good.
I hate to say that the Leafs got lucky in the first and last game this week, but it's true. Against upcoming teams like Buffalo, Minnesota and Pittsburgh their luck may run out. They can't afford to let the other teams stick around and gain momentum as the game continues. They got lucky that Tampa Bay is not playing well this year, and they continued to put pressure on their goaltender ,which allowed for the big outburst of goals. They also got lucky that Detroit had an off-night, and that they have not been good on the road this year.
I'm not trying to take away from anything that they did this week, I just think that they need to realize they can't let teams get back into the games when it seems like they are down and out. Hopefully the Leafs can work on this and continue to jump out to big leads, without giving them up.
The Ugly: Opponents' Special Teams
For once it was the Maple Leafs making the other teams look bad on the penalty kill. The Leafs scored three power play goals this week, while they gave up nothing on the penalty kill.
Their special teams were fantastic this week, and hopefully that can continue. While their power play has been pretty consistent, the PK has been a constant thorn in the side of head coach Ron Wilson. Maybe he has finally found something that will work.
For Leafs fans this is a must. There are tons of reports and statistics out there that show how good the PK is for the teams that make it deep into the playoffs. There are also tons of stats and reports that show how bad that aspect of the Leafs game has been ever since the lockout.
One week doesn't a season make. However, it's games like this that help teams turn the corner. Maybe that has happened now for the Maple Leafs.
Looking Ahead: Buffalo Sabers X2, New York Rangers
The Maple Leafs bounced back from an ugly week with three straight wins. They won't get much of a break as they face a division opponent twice this week and then the conference leader.
The Leafs and Buffalo Sabers hook up for a home and home series three days apart. It gets going on Tuesday at Air Canada Center, and I think the Maple Leafs are on a good enough roll and have seen the Sabres a few times this year, which should enable them to clinch a victory during the home game. The away game is a different matter altogether, as history shows us the Leafs have not played well in Buffalo recently.
One night later they will host the Eastern Conference leading New York Rangers. Funny thing is the Leafs have had the Rangers' number this year: 2-0-0 with both victories coming in New York against Henrik Lundqvist. With Jonas Gustavsson on some kind of roll, I can see him getting the nod in this one as he has beaten them twice already. Regardless if he plays back to back on Friday and Saturday or if Reimer wins in Buffalo, I think for one night Wilson's "win and stay in" philosophy will change for this one.
Last week I said the Maple Leafs might only be able to get two or three points out of this week, but they sure proved me wrong. This week I'm hoping for more of the same, but the back to back games will be tough. I think they will get at four points this week regardless if they can continue their strong play.