Toronto Maple Leafs' Keys To Success: Kris Versteeg and a Potent Powerplay
Call me crazy, but did we just witness the key to miraculously fixing all the Toronto Maple Leafs' problems in the span of two games? Probably not, but it seems like the team has figured something out during this two-game winning streak which has led to success.
As the powerplay goes, so go the Leafs.
And on come the wins.
During the Leafs first four games, all victories, the team's powerplay was clicking at a slow, but steady rate. They were three-for-21 (14.3 percent), which isn't anything to be ashamed of for a young team coming into a brand new season.
They scored a powerplay goal in three-straight games and clearly had something going with four wins in the bag. That was until the worst thing imaginable (but not entirely unexpected) happened.
Down went Colby Armstrong. Down went Dion Phaneuf. Down went the powerplay.
And they plummeted down the standings.
The Leafs went 1-8-3 in their next 12 games and watched as the losses sliced up that terrific start (pardon the uncomfortably reminding pun, Dion).
The powerplay went five-for-47 over that 12-game couldn't-buy-a-win span. That's a whopping 10.6 percent effectiveness rate or about the percentage of plays John Mitchell doesn't lose the puck.
It was ugly and as fans cried for Ron Wilson's head, the team looked like it was destined to, once again, have the worst powerplay in the league (for the third-straight season).
Then something funny happened. Something so surreal you might not believe it unless you witnessed it Tuesday night at the ACC.
Down 4-1 in the second period to the Nashville Predators and on their way to a ninth-straight loss, the Preds took six-straight penalties and it was all the Leafs needed to open the extra-man floodgates.
Four powerplay goals later and the Leafs were up 5-4 and never looked back. They finished the game going 4 for 8 with the man advantage. Oh, and they won.
I know, big news.
Then came Thursday night at home against the New Jersey (not so devilish) Devils, where the Leafs walked off the ice with a 3-1 win. They went 2 for 3 with the extra man.
They went into the game against Nashville with a powerplay (not) clicking at 11.8 percent (good enough for 26th in the NHL). They came out of that game firing at a 17.7 percent rate, which is 14th best in the NHL.
That's what happens when you go 6 for 11 in two games.
Two straight wins. Two straight powerful powerplay efforts.
Coincidence? I think not.
Nine of the team's 14 PPG's have come in a victory this season. The first Leaf win was the only game the Leafs won without scoring a PPG. Those are the kinds of numbers you don't argue with.
Kris Versteeg has been the main reason for that success. Four of his five goals this season have been while on the man advantage. Three have come in the past two games.
Whether he's on the point or playing down low, he seems to have found his game and a knack for lighting it up when the opposition takes a penalty.
It doesn't fix every problem the Leafs have this season, but for now it's clear that when the Leafs score on the powerplay, they win games.
And though maintaining the torrid pace while up a man is easier said than done, it's a step in the right direction and it's nice to know that when the special teams are successful, the team is successful.
It's critical to the Leafs success.
Maybe this hockey thing isn't so hard after all.
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