The Toronto Maple Leafs picked up a second straight win in overtime with a 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. There was also a 6.9 earthquake in Chile. Clearly, these two events are related and the world is about to end. At the very least, it's going to end while we are watching a team that gives you a feeling of...what's the opposite of dread? Less dread. That's it.
Watching Viktor Stalberg (24) score two goals on Luca Caputi (21) assists and Tyler Bozak (23) scoring after creating a turnover with his forechecking and setting up Phil Kessel (22) for the winner in overtime made me feel less dread. Toss in Luke Schenn (20) being a plus three on the night and Carl Gunnarsson (23) helping out on the blueline on top of Nikolai Kulemin (23) being an absolute beast and the sun might be shining a bit brighter over the next couple of week.
The Leafs' first game after the Olympic break was, I am told, a disgusting, listless display by a group of players playing out the string. Prior to their second game, Elliotte Friedman interviewed Brian Burke about what was said in the dressing room. Burke was visibly upset as he spoke about how he basically read the entire team the riot act as he clearly outlined the situation: every player owes the fans a 100% effort every night if only because they are also competing for their future.
Since then the Leafs have played four strong games that have for the vast majority of the time not lacked in effort. They are finally getting the results that they deserve. All of the following comes with the caveat that this is a small sample size. Since the Phaneuf/Giguere trades the Maple Leafs are 5-5-1 which, while not stunning, represents almost a quarter of their win total this year in just over a tenth of the season. Before the trade there was increasing chatter about whether Ron Wilson was a good coach. His work with other teams was becoming largely ignored because of his failures here in Toronto to create a good penalty kill. In those 11 games the Leafs have killed 27 of 32 for a 84.4% kill rate. In addition, of those five goals two actually came when the team was down two men. Of course, the focus can now move to the powerplay which has not scored in seven games and has plummeted to 29th in the NHL.
Now, seasoned observers of the Maple Leafs should not be surprised at all that now that they have been eliminated by James Mirtle. Of course, I tried telling you guys this a few days ago to help prevent mass suicides in Leafs RAUP:
Past East Playoff Battles After The Trade Deadline - Bird Watchers Anonymous
You want good news? The Leafs are poised to make their 5th straigh post-lockout winning percentage improvement.
Don't say I don't give you guys good news! In the post game thread there were some comments questioning whether this late season semi-surge was any different than past years' and whether there was really anything to get excited about. The big difference is that the players that make up this Leafs squad are parts of the team's future. For at least until the end of the year gaps are going to be filled with kids. Whatever mistakes occur are not just reasons to pull out your hair but are teachable moments. At the very least, there is...not dread...and not less dread...but...'hope' and that feels pretty good.
A few other observations from the advanced statistics and the game sheets:
- Luke Schenn was +3 on the night in almost 21 minutes of ice-time to bring his yearly total to +4. Last season he was a -12. He also picked up another assist and I think he was ripped off on the first Leafs goal.
- Luca Caputi had two assists. One of the things that I have liked of Gianluca so far is that he knows the style of game he has to play and he is doing his best. In an interview this week he said that he wanted to make Leaf fans feel that they got something good in the trade. Baby steps but he's off to a good start.
- Jean-Sebastien Giguere made 31 saves today and gave us all a huge heart attack when he raced out in overtime to prevent a breakaway.
- Luke Schenn, Nikolai Kulemin, Phil Kessel, and Tyler Bozak led the way with double digit, positive Corsi ratings as the Leafs dominated the Lightning at even strength. Despite being terrible 4-on-4 the Leafs had a period during regulation where they looked like they had a powerplay.
- A few guys still struggled: Jeff Finger, Jamie Lundmark, and Fucking John Mitchell. Yeah, yeah, yeah. He stinks. But he's cheap. Don't forget that!
- On the other side, the only ones in the black were Nate Thompson and Brandon Bochenski.
- Dion Phaneuf and Francois Beauchemin seem to be the chosen shut-down pair for Ron Wilson. The trio they faced the most was the Lightning's top line of Steven Stamkos - Martin St. Louis - Steve Downie. Luke Schenn was tasked with facing Vincent Lecavalier while Jeff Finger was given the "Gustavsson Protection" role.
And just because it makes us smile: