Toronto Maple Leafs fans were treated to an exceptional week of hockey. Minus Monday's loss against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Blue and White played high-calibre hockey on the road.
Traveling from Washington to Winnipeg to Montreal, the Leafs showed no signs of road fatigue and stormed through those three cities. They picked up six out of a possible eight points this week and moved to 7-5-0 on the year after starting the week at 4-4-0.
Here is this week's, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
From Phil Kessel getting his first (and second) goal of the season to an absolute beatdown of a division rival, the Maple Leafs played hard during their final three games of the week for 60 minutes a night.
After losing 4-1 to the Hurricanes, they bounced back for a gutsy 3-2 win over the Jets in Winnipeg. After the Leafs found themselves down by a goal—which was scored short handed in the second period by Zach Redmond—Tyler Bozak got them back to even with a shorty of his own. The Leafs once again found themselves trailing in the third, but Matt Frattin's deflection and Kessel's sniper lifted the Leafs to victory.
For those keeping track, yes that is "Phil the Thrill's" first goal of the year; however, that was his sixth point (now leads the team with 10 after getting two goals and four assists this week).
I really hope the "trade Phil Kessel talk" dies down now and everyone relaxes a little. Before that goal he had five points in eight games.
Would people really be happier if he had five goals and no assist? What about two goals and three assists? Regardless, Kessel is continuously developing his two-way game very effectively and now has some goals to to make all the part-time Leafs fans happy as well.
Continuing the week, after beating the Capitals for their only home win thus far, the Maple Leafs had to go up against Alexander Ovechkin and last-place Washington the very next night. I (and I assume many Leafs fans) thought this was the perfect recipe for the Leafs to start to fall apart. It always seems as if they can't beat up on the lower-placed teams when they really need to.
But this time it was different, and after grabbing 3-1 lead after two periods, the Leafs held off a late surge and defeated the Caps 3-2. Newcomer James van Riemsdyk potted two in the first period just over two minutes apart, and Ben Scrivens did his part in net, stopping 24 shots for his second win of the year.
Then came Saturday night.
Division rivals, Canadian rivals and original-six rivals—no matter how you tee it up, it all means that neither the Maple Leafs nor the Montreal Canadiens think fondly of each other. Boy, was that clear at the Bell Centre. The game I believed to be the Leafs' toughest of the week seemed like a breeze throughout much of the night. Two goals in both the first and second period gave the buds a comfortable lead.
Then came the rough stuff.
There were 18 penalties in total in the final frame including five misconducts. Now for a second let's forget about all the rough stuff and put aside the question of who bit who, the Maple Leafs looked absolutely dominant against the streaking Canadiens.
They got a goal just 59 seconds into the game and never let off the pedal. They scored two power-play goals as well and killed eight penalties. All this after coming at the end of a week with three games prior. All this after already beating the Habs opening night in Montreal. All this after the Habs get their boy P.K. Subban back on the team and look to ready to climb the standings.
Surely, the Maple Leafs wouldn't be able to win three games in a row, on the road no less. Surely, Toronto can't beat Montreal twice at the Bell Centre in one month. But these Leafs are starting to look a little different than the ones that donned the blue-and-white jersey in seasons past.
These Leafs are actually starting to look good.
But I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, because, as always, there are things that need to be worked on, such as...
Going 1-4-0 in your own building? For a team that is now 7-5-0, you wouldn't expect them to only have one home win in five tries. And the last game played on home ice was arguably their worst of the season. Matt Frattin gave the Leafs their only goal of the game at the 5:44 mark of the first period.
Then things went downhill, and the Leafs watched the Staal brothers score back-to-back goals in the second when Jordan Staal tied the game with his first goal of the season (I wonder how many 'Canes fans want GM Jim Rutherford to trade him?), while Eric Staal netted his seventh on the power play.
In the third, the Hurricanes poured on a couple more. and when it was all over the Leafs saw a scoreboard that read: Vistor 4, Leafs 1. Oddly enough, that is the same way their record looks in the standings (someone call William Shatner's Weird or What, I think I've found a conspiracy).
The Maple Leafs need to establish a better and tougher game on home ice for a couple of reasons. First, they need to make it so that other teams don't want to play at the Air Canada Centre. They need to create a hostile environment. They need to take what they have done this past week on the road and bring it home to 40 Bay Street. Secondly, they need to give the home fans something to cheer about in person.
Now I know we can get all technical and talk about all the suits that fill the lower bowls who don't make any noise, regardless of the game, but for the hard-working actual fans who fill the upper bowls, they deserve to cheer on a team that is 6-1-0 on the road.
According to my fiancée, the Leafs can't actually hear us cheering for them through the TV. The alternative is to bring that passion to the ACC, and for the Leafs to show us why we bleed blue and white.
It was hard for me to think of something ugly this week. I was going to write down the post-game interviews conducted by the Montreal Canadiens players, but I think they make fun of themselves pretty well.
My ugly pick last week was the fact that the Leafs, try as they might, can't be Boston. It was suggested by a reader that I look at the special teams play.
This week I did, and overall for the season it hasn't been pretty. The power play is 24th in the league with a 15 percent success rate, with just nine goals on 60 attempts—not to mention having allowed two short-handed goals already.
On the reverse side the penalty kill has been just as ugly, ranked 21st in the league with a 77.50 percent success rate allowing nine goals on 40 shots, with one shorty for themselves (thank you Mr. Bozak). However, this past week was a little bit better in both areas.
The Maple Leafs allowed four power-play goals on 21 chances this past week.
That's a 19 percent success rate for the opposing teams. While that isn't great, it's a step in the right direction as they shut out Winnipeg and Montreal on a combined 0-of-11. The team scored 13 goals this past week and three of them came with the man advantage. That's a 23 percent success rate, and again, while it isn't anything to brag about, they are showing signs of improvement.
At the very least it means their five-on-five play has been good, scoring 10 goals against just three at full strength.
There are games on tap for the Leafs this week featuring what's expected to be some tough competition. While every opponent is currently (as of Sunday, Feb. 10) lower than the Leafs, it doesn’t mean they will stay there for long.
They begin with a home tilt on Monday night against the Philadelphia Flyers (5-6-1). On Thursday they have a rematch from this week against the Hurricanes (5-4-1) in Carolina. The Buds finish the week at home against the Ottawa Senators (6-4-2) on Saturday night.
My prediction this week is the Leafs will finish 1-2-0.
The Flyers are underachieving a bit right now not having Scott Hartnell in their lineup. Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov has been pretty solid in net with a 5-5-0 record, 2.27 GAA and .921 save percentage.
It will also mark the return of former Leafs No. 1 draft pick Luke Schenn to the ACC. I think the Leafs will continue to struggle on home ice in this one, and will underestimate the Flyers. This is a very good hockey team and sooner or later the Flyers are going to break out.
A big overtime win over Carolina on Saturday shows they are starting to get there now.
The Hurricanes are only 2-2-0 at home this year, but I think it will be tough for the Leafs to win four straight road games. They lost to the Flyers in overtime on Saturday night and will be looking to bounce back. The Flyers also have the benefit of just beating the Leafs 4-1, so there's that sense of knowing what to look for to repeat that success.
Finally, I think the Leafs will get a home win against their provincial rivals, the Ottawa Senators. I think it will be a game where they come out full of adrenaline, and if, by my predictions, they have lost two straight games going into this one, I feel head coach Randy Carlyle will be mixing things up and trying to get some better production out of his team.
Last week I said the Leafs would go 2-1-1, and I was pleasantly surprised to see them go 3-1-0. Here's hoping they prove me wrong again.