Could Maple Leafs fans ask for a better Christmas gift? Back-to-back wins on back-to-back nights. They also picked up a point in a shootout loss to the L.A. Kings. Five points out of a possible six.
They have solidified a spot inside the top eight in the Eastern Conference heading into the Christmas break. They will still need at least one win and an overtime/shootout loss to guarantee a plus .500 record for the month. So far, they are 4-4-2, not bad considering they have played some tough opponents.
Let’s take a look at their great bounce-back week. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of the past week for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
With three games in one week, the Leafs could only possibly get six points. They got as close as they could by picking up five and they avoided a three-game pointless streak as well.
They lost the last two games last week against Buffalo and Vancouver back-to-back. The Leafs had to battle against L.A. to force overtime and eventually ended up with a shootout loss. Sure, that’s three straight losses, but at least they got one point.
They then avoided what could have been a season killing slide by beating Buffalo and the New York Islanders. Had the Leafs not picked up those two wins, it could have been five straight games without a victory. Instead, they now have seven points in their last six games and keep themselves in second place in the Northeast division.
The win over Buffalo was huge as they avenged a loss from just a week ago and won their first game against a division opponent since beating Montreal way back in October. Some would think the win against Buffalo would have been enough, but the Leafs showed determination in kicking down the lowly Islanders just 24 hours later.
They didn’t use the excuse of being tired and having to travel, and they have momentum going into the final week of 2011.
The Maple Leafs spent even more time in the penalty box this week. 14 times the Leafs found themselves down by a man. Either discipline is starting to become a real issue with this team, or the referees in the league have something against the Leafs.
I would love to say it’s the latter, but I’m sure it’s not.
The Leafs have now been shorthanded 136 times this year, ahead of only nine other teams. Of those nine other teams, only three are right now in a playoff spot. Interestingly enough, all those other teams are also better than the Maple Leafs in penalty killing percentage. The Leafs still sit at the bottom of the league in that category. However, they only gave up the three power-play goals this week, one to each team.
One power-play goal against per game is a bad stat, but considering how bad the Leafs PK has been, it is a bit of an improvement. Still, if the Leafs want to see their special teams improving, they need to start by seeing their opponents in the box more than their teammates.
As of this week, the Leafs have only had 124 PP opportunities compared to the 136 times they have been shorthanded
This is a bit of a stretch, but again the Leafs played very well this week on all aspects of the game. The defense was tight and made some big stops. The offence provided just enough goals to claim two victories and another point.
The goaltending of Reimer, while at times looked a little shaky, was actually the best we’ve seen since he returned from his head injury. Reimer stopped 89 shots this week, while allowing only seven pucks to get past him. Unfortunately, three of those game against the second worst team in the East, the New York Islanders.
Of course it was two of the usual suspects for the Islanders who did the scoring in John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, but the fact is, this is a team the Leafs wanted to bowl over and they let them stay in the game right until the end.
It isn’t necessarily a big issue, it’s just one of those things to look at when you think the Leafs are starting to get on a roll, but you wonder if there are any underlying issues. Sure, this was a game being played on one day's rest, and on any given day, any team can beat any team. But the Leafs need to make it a habit of getting that early lead against the lower-ranked teams, and then keeping them down throughout the game.
You know, kind of like how Boston plays against us.
What a way to end the year: a road trip through the Southern states before returning to the cold province of Manitoba for a New Year's Eve date with the Jets.
The Panthers have been surprisingly good this year. They sit in third place in the East with 43 points. They pounded the Leafs at home 5-1 back at the beginning of November and have continued their strong play.
The Hurricanes are 1-1 with the Leafs this year, and it’s been the home team coming out with the victory both times. The Hurricanes are the last place team in the East, and the Leafs need to prove they can pick apart the weaker competition when they head to Raleigh.
The Jets are starting to find their legs, only three points behind the Leafs in the East. By the time these two hook up, they could be tied in the standings or the Jets could even have a one-point advantage over the blue and white. The Leafs will be in tough in this game, but they will look to end 2011 on a high note.
Last week, was a busy week and with no week in review, there was no prediction. This week, I think the Leafs could pull out at least four points by beating two of these teams. It may be a difficult task with all the games on the road, but the Leafs have some momentum.
Hopefully, it doesn’t subside with the holiday break.