Last season the Leafs were plagued by a dearth of timely saves. Time and time again a weak goal would come at the worst time possible. Whether the Leafs were pressing for the equalizer, had just pulled even, or were pressing.
In the Leafs' last two games Vesa Toskala has made 48 saves but two stand out. The first came Thursday night with 3:44 to play in the third as a bad line change allowed the Thrashers to break in 2 on 1. A quick pass to Pascal Dupuis set him up for a one-timer from the hash marks. Last year that puck would have found the back of the net along with one more in the last minute of play and probably a couple more in the inevitable shootout loss. Thursday night though saw VeTo make a stunning blocker save to preserve the two goal lead and ultimately the victory.
Saturday night the Leafs managed to allow Ryan Malone to waltz in alone 4:12 into the third with a 3-0 lead. He rifled a wrist shot towards the top corner but Toskala's fast glove kept the shot out. The Penguins went on to score two extremely flukey goals but that save calmed down a team that had begun to run around a bit. While it may have not been evident to the mittenstringer's it seems that they now acknowledge that Toskala has earned the starter's role.
The game also saw Mark Bell notch his first goal as a Maple Leaf. He is turning out to be a pretty good addition. He is only 27 so the Leafs will still be getting his prime years and he plays a physical game which the Leafs can always use. He provides Maurice with a lot of flexibility as he can work on the wing as well as down the middle. Antropov also broke out of a long scoring drought as did Jason Blake who was gifted his goal by Kyle Wellwood after the pair found themselves on a 2 on 0 breakaway. That wasn't the only good news this weekend as Pavel Kubina is close to returning and Shoalts' wonders who should stay? Kronwall or Herpes. Is that even a question? Of course, who will stay is another matter. Does it make sense?
Only when you think that The Wizard of Woz is the only JFJ draft pick in the lineup. Thanks to Rand for the correction. He was signed as a free agent by JFJ on May 27, 2004. So this just confirms better conspiracy theories that either The Herp has comprimising photos of JFJ and Peddie or his career is just one long Make-A-Wish.
As for the SPG game there were quite a few new additions to the pack chasing the leader. The winning guesses for the Pens game were: Shot - Steen, Penalty - McCabe, Goal - Bell.
The troubles of the last 12 games (3-7-2) were enough to make some people publicly renounce the Leafs. If Dante taught us anything it's that traitors don't get off lightly. Now, if this Mats Sundin-led recovery is nothing more than another false dawn then maybe those who cracked their ankles jumping off of the bandwagon will be happy cheering for the senators come April. After all, the last time the Leafs' won two games in a row with a balanced offensive attack and a renewed dedication to defensive responsibility they proceeded to stifle any thoughts of a turn around by getting shellacked 7-1 by the Capitals. They went 2-3 in their next 5 games and talk returned to how frustratingly inconsistent the Leafs can be before a 1-4-2 stretch almost triggered the apocalypse. Not that the apocalypse should be cancelled because not having JFJ and Peddie's shadows darken the ACC's entrances ever again should still be at the top of our Christmas wishlist. However, maybe these two games are not another false dawn. Maybe the team legitimately understands what it will take for them to be successful. Maybe the team will continue to communicate on the ice and eliminate boneheaded mistakes. Maybe the Jays will win the AL East too. Odds are the team will continue to blow hot and cold but it's nice to be able to wonder if a corner has been turned.
Who was the Leafs' Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Mats Sundin (2 assists and great captaining)
Alex Ponikarovsky (1 goal and 1 assist in his return)
Nik Antropov (1 goal, 1 assist, and still awesome)
Vesa Toskala (30 timely saves)