The second half of a back to back, away, against a rested Colorado. I think we all knew what was coming: A dominant performance by the Leafs' skill players. Phil Kessel sneaked in behind the Avs' defense to notch his first on the night, JVR tipped home a Cody Franson shot from the high slot, and Nazem Kadri did likewise for a Jake Gardiner assist. Kessel scooped up a rebound and put it home for the 4-0 lead. Nathan MacKinnon showed up to notch a pair for the Avalanche (and made it look easy), but McClement iced the empty netter.
As it seems to be with every back-to-back, we start with one thought: Dion Phaneuf is a workhorse. He played almost 24 minutes against Phoenix, then came back with 25:08 against the Avs. Second in ice on time among defensemen for those games? Not Carl Gunnarsson, but Cody Franson. I'm not sure, but I think his ice time bump is a product of wanting to shelter Morgan Rielly more than it's about feeding him minutes (though I'd be remiss if I didn't use this recent trend to start some sort of "showcasing" trade rumor).
Then there's the top six, who really got to play over the last two games. Joffrey Lupul had almost 23 minutes on ice against the Coyotes, then posted 19:37 against the Avalanche. Tyler Bozak continues to be one of the highest ATOI centers in the NHL. All this to say that I'm impressed the Leafs leaned on core players as hard as they did (Peter Holland played more against the Avs at even strength than McClement!), and still came away with two much-needed regulation wins. Given the tight schedule, I'd still rather see the Leafs use a fourth line that can actually play hockey, but it's great news that the Leafs didn't get burned by running two first lines in back-to-back nights.
Phil Kessel is great at ice hockey. Duh. It was nice to see Gardiner and Franson produce, because they've both had their share of terrible giveaways over the past few games - including one play tonight where Gardiner made a no-look pass to no-one while in the defensive zone.
The Leafs are now on a tear - six straight wins, with four of them in regulation. It's good enough to bump them back into playoff contention. Thursday night, they'll head to Dallas to take on the Stars in game three of this four game road trip.