Well, that was as good as a response to Saturday's lacklustre effort as could have been expected. The Leafs were strong on special teams with Gill as the PK workhorse as they held the Lightning scoreless with the man advantage while the score was still knotted at zeros.
Then, in the second period, when the Leafs were finally given a man advantage they capitalized. Too often this year the team has let slim leads get away from them because of the failure of their powerplay but last night it clicked twice in a matter of minutes to stretch the lead that Jason Blake had given the Leafs with his third goal in four games.
The major difference during this stretch compared to last year and even earlier this season has been the goaltending. In the past seven games Vesa Toskala has a 5-1-1 record, 1.84 GAA, and .931 Sv%. To illustrate what a huge difference that makes: the Leafs are averaging 27 shots against a game during this seven game stretch which is pretty similar to last year's total that had the team ranked 7th in the league for lowest shots against. While VeTo's numbers average out to roughly 25 saves per game if we use Raycroft's Sv% from last season (.894) the Leafs would be giving up an entire goal more per game.
Another thing that jumped out at me during last night's game was the positive effect that Boyd Devereaux has had on Alex Steen and Matt Stajan. Last night Joe Bowen noted that Boyd knows what it takes for him to stay in the NHL and it's his energy level and work ethic rather than natural skill that is keeping him employed. With each passing game his two young linemates adopt more of his habits and recently they are being rewarded with more offensive results. A great piece of forechecking in the neural zone by Devereaux set up a two on one that Matt 'better than Peca' Stajan finished off after driving to the net hard with his stick on the ice. JFJ gets criticized for a lot of his deals, rightly, but bringing in Devo looks like it will have a greater impact that probably imagined.
Unfortunately, it looks to have cost Bates Battaglia a spot in the lineup as he was waived by the Leafs but when Vesa Toskala has more assists than you some tough decisions have to be made. As a fourth line plugger Bates was a good fit but it bodes well for the Leafs that he can no longer find a spot in the lineup thanks to the play of Belak and Bell and Devereaux.
Now, it's off to the road for the Leafs for seven straight games. Just as their home form is rounding into shape the team will go back to the setting in which they are most comfortable: out of the fishbowl. Bill Watters mentioned that the team will probably have to pick up 15 of 20 points on the trip to do anything more than tread water. Looking at the schedule in the left sidebar I'd say that that sounds just about right. Especially considering the tight Eastern standings. If they have to win one game though I'd ask that it's this Saturday against the Habs since I'll be in attendance. If they lay an egg and the fans start giving me crap I might have to conquer the province but I'd hate to have to move there. Go Leafs Go!