The Leafs have continued their improved possession number play, beating another mediocre team in the Columbus Blue Jackets. OK, it's true that the Blue Jackets had a pile of injuries going into this one, and that if we are expecting the Leafs to make the playoffs, this is exactly the type of game the team has to win, but still. Last season, the team didn't look this good, even against poor teams.
For their part, the Leafs were missing Joffrey Lupul, who suffered a broken right hand in practice yesterday, and is expected to miss a significant amount of time. Suffice it to say that the team could have used his help, but wouldn't have had much to complain about when compared to Columbus' injury woes.
So who lead the Leafs tonight?
Phil Kessel looked great once again tonight, notching a goal and two assists on a quick snipe off a rebound, a sweet pass to Nazem Kadri, and then assisting once again on a Daniel Winnik goal. Kessel's hands are obviously just as good as they always have been, even if I can't help but wonder if a pre-season injury is hampering his skating. Don't get me wrong, I have no reason to believe that Kessel is still feeling the effects of this injury other than the fact that when I watch him, I don't think he skates like he used to. I'm speculating, based on what I have seen of the player so far.
Anyway, Daniel Winnik? Yeah, he played his 500th NHL game this evening and also wound up with 3 points on the night. In Lupul's absence, he was given the chance to shine and shine he did. Winnik had a solid night all around, scoring a goal on a beautiful wrist shot and contributing in exactly the way you'd hoped he would when the Leafs signed him. Sure, he finished his checks, and yeah, he was defensively responsible, but on top of all that, he helped drive play to the other end of the ice, being a key contributor on Kessel's goal as well as Kadri's goal. You can't really ask much more of a guy who earns just over a million dollars a season.
Nazem Kadri also had a strong game, creating chances from thin air, whether it be his slick tip on goal which lead to Kessel's tally, or the numerous controlled entries he orchestrated. A goal and an assist were long overdue for Kadri, who has looked strong for the Leafs early on, even if he hasn't appeared as often as we would like on the scoresheet.
Not to be forgotten or underestimated is the play of Jonathan Bernier. I'm a big James Reimer fan, but if Bernie continues to play like this, it's going to be an uphill battle for Reimer. Bernier was simply solid throughout the whole game, his only blemish losing a puck in his pads which lead to a power play goal. Other than that one slip-up, he kept square to shooters, controlled rebounds, and generally played the kind of safe and predictable game you'd always hope for from a netminder.
- The Leafs' 4th line hasn't had much ice time in the last few games, and while it's true that many other teams hold their own bottom trio to under 10 minutes a night, I'd like to see Peter Holland, Matt Frattin, and Richard Panik play just a bit more -- particularly if the Leafs are facing a weaker team. Holland in particular looked good on the penalty kill.
- The Leafs' penalty kill has generally been more aggressive than in years past. The shot attempts against haven't gone down enough to call this a success (yet) but I generally prefer this kind of penalty kill. So far so good.
- David Clarkson has been quietly putting together the season that many of us had hoped he would have last season. Sure, he'll never live up to his contract, but at least he is an effective 2nd-3rd line winger… for now. His goal tonight showed some soft hands, even if he was left wide open. Keep it up, Dave!
- I know that this game was against a weaker (and weakened) opponent, but it's so nice to see the Leafs do well against another team, I'm just happy to just soak it all in.