Any talk of a fluke start has to be thrown out the window at this point for the Leafs (8-3-1), who won three of their four games over the past seven days, including road victories over the Rangers and Devils and a thrilling ‘w’ over the Penguins in what looked like their first thorough, full, 60-minute effort of the season. The top line continued to shine and Jonas Gustavsson got some of his groove back after a shaky first few outings in place of James Reimer (although Kaspars Daugavins’ winning goal for Ottawa on Sunday was still unforgivable).
In the Lup
Both Joffrey Lupul and Kris Versteeg are among the 21 NHL players who have scored at least five goals and boast a point-per-game stat line thus far this season. The cynics among us will suggest that this offers a great example of the fluky happenings of the NHL’s first leg, but it also represents the strange way in which different environments suit different personalities. Lupul seemed aimless as just another guy in Anaheim but has thrived under the high-pressure, high-energy atmosphere in Toronto, while Versteeg, conversely, couldn’t handle the fishbowl (or the similar pressure in Philadelphia) and has found new life under less scrutiny as a Florida Panther. As an aside, let’s just boldly go ahead and call the Francois Beauchemin trade (Beauchemin to Anaheim for Lupul and Jake Gardiner) a win for TML.
A Monster Re-Emerges
Okay, so Gustavsson isn’t quite there yet. He still gives up too many juicy rebounds and his movement in net sometimes takes the appearance of a child with bladder control issues (Francois Allaire must cringe at both). But he has given up fewer goals in his past four games (11) than he did over his first three (13) and his save percentage over those four games (.908) represents more than a 50-point improvement from the .857 he registered prior. Stats aside, he simply looks more confident. Curious as it may seem to laud an interference penalty, his attempt to play the puck against the Devils last night may have led to the Patrick Elias PP goal, but it also signalled his willingness to venture out of the crease and play with more assertiveness. By no means in Gustavsson’s play making anyone forget about Reimer, but confidence is the key for the struggling Swede and more consistent weeks like this will help immensely.
Credit Ron Wilson (who still doesn’t deserve a contract extension, by the way) with taking prompt action on a struggling Luke Schenn. Schenn was on the ice for just 10 minutes against the Devils, well under the totals of any other Leafs blue liner and even five minutes fewer than Gardiner. It isn’t the first time that Schenn has dealt with inconsistency and it certainly isn’t time to push the panic button (yesterday represented the Saskatoon native’s 22nd birthday), but it’s nonetheless difficult to fully understand. After all, Schenn is actually facing less pressure than in previous seasons. He’s not part of the top defensive pairing and doesn’t often find himself in against the opposing team’s top forwards. Plus, his expectations on the offensive end have decreased on account of the presence of his partner, John-Michael Liles. Disconcertingly, it’s the physical aspect of his game, the part that should be an unmistakeable strength, that’s lacking, as he’s being pushed off the puck too easily and too often. With Cody Franson deserving of more of a shot than he’s gotten, you have to figure that a trip to the press box isn’t too far off for Schenn (possibly even tonight in Columbus).
Too Early to Lay Out the Welcome Mat(s)?
Doug Gilmour was honoured with a banner-raising on January 31, 2009, just under 12 years after playing his last real game in the blue and white (sorry, a one-game, five-minute comeback doesn’t count). Wendel Clark saw his number pulled to the rafters on November 22, 2008, over 10 years after the end of his second stint in Toronto. What, then, is the rush with Mats Sundin, who will be honoured in a similar ceremony on February 11, 2012, less than four years following his final game as a Leaf? Sundin certainly deserves the honour and shouldn’t be punished for the fact that the Toronto faithful never warmed to him in quite the same way as they did with Gilmour and Clark, but to expedite the process like that raises questions about why the previous two captains weren’t honoured in a similarly prompt fashion.
What’s Coming Up
@ Columbus (Thursday); vs. Boston (Saturday); vs. Florida (Tuesday)
The Saturday night tilt at home to Boston is the headliner here, but the games against Columbus and Florida represent a pair of those outings that clubs with playoff hopes simply can’t afford to overlook. Columbus’ league-worst 2-9-1 record screams pushover, but they happen to be coming off a win over Anaheim, have been off since Sunday, welcome a fatigued Toronto team on the tail end of a back-to-back and are filled with GTA-born players who will surely be up for a rare game against the Leafs. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see how the Buds counter the Bruins’ deep forward corps that tallied six goals against them two weeks ago, as well as seeing what the new-look Panthers have to offer.
About the Author
Written by Ben Fisher