Leafs 9 v. Rangers 2: One of Those Nights
This was a fun game. Any time you can see your team leave a first period up 5-1 you will have a big smile on your face. The Leafs' saviour (3-0 since his return) Carlo Colaiacovo got the Leafs rolling when a deflected Jeff O'Neill pass found him in front of the net. He chipped it past Lundqvist, who was taught a lesson about self-relief by Tom Renney as he was left in for 8 of the 9 goals, and less than a minute later Alexei Ponikarovsky banked on in of a skate. That was all she wrote as the Leafs took that momentum and used it to batter the hapless Rangers. The only blips were the two goals against that came as a result of Ian White bumping Andrew Raycroft off balance and Kyle Wellwood falling asleep in our own slot and leaving his man unmarked.
To get an idea of how bad this game was for Rangers fans check out HockeyBird. I would have posted that phone number during the Leafs losing streak but I am sure that if any group of fans have been talked off ledges often enough to have it memorized it is Leafs Nation.
This game was also an illustration of how the Leafs must play in order to succeed. Oh, and they need the bounces that were suspiciously lacking during those 7 games between streaks of awesomeness. The coincidence, at least I am sure it must be, is that during these three games the bounces have come at the same time as the Leafs' hard work. I am no hockey guru but there is no way that those two are related right? Nonetheless, the two intersected on Saturday night and it led to a blowout. I suggest that the players look into this phenomenon and try to figure out how often these two will align.
Of note, The Sandpaper Line was largely held off the scoresheet but put together a solid game. There was a scare when one of its members, Tucker, took a Shanahan shot off his left hand. Thankfully (although not from a contract point of view), the x-rays were negative. This game also saw the continued strong play of Carlo and Pavel and their emergence as a strong second pairing. Paul Maurice has been waiting 30 games for this and it allows him to play Hal Gill more on the powerplay and keep his ice-time to the 12-16 minutes/game range instead of the 20+ range he was in before Colaiacovo's return. As well, as a friend of mine noted, John Pohl has really taken his game up a notch since he started getting more ice-time. He added a nice goal on a terrible Poni dump-in where he raced in and latched onto a bouncing puck before firing it under Lundqvist's blocker arm. The added ice-time has helped him find his offensive stride and he is resembling the player that put up 36-39-75 last year with the Marlies a bit more with each game.
Of course, what wrap-up could ignore the career-high in points that both Kyle Wellwood (3-2-5) and Alexei Ponikarovsky (2-3-5) put up. Before the season began these were two guys that were going to be looked to for solid improvements on last year's standards in order to defray the loss of the points that were lost with the exit of Jason Allison and Eric Lindros. They are the secondary scoring that is necessary for the Leafs to make the playoffs and it should come as no surprise that during the Leafs 7 game losing streak the two combined for 1-2-3 and it was all from Wellwood. Meanwhile, the captain added only 2-1-3 during the slide. In the three games since the trio have combined for 8-12-20.
The top line will have to keep this level up for the Leafs to continue winning as some of the other younger players have struggled. Matt Stajan has cooled off with 0-0-0 in the last 10 games and Alex Steen has only tallied two goals this year. The Sandpaper Line for all of their grit and effort will provide only modest contributions offensively. However, the Leafs are back in the top 5 on the powerplay so that will also provide support.
The Leafs look to stretch their winning streak to four games against their ex-mate Eddie Belfour, the billion dollar goalie, and the Florida Panthers in Toronto. They have given the Leafs fits this year so look for another close game. Of course the Leafs could chase their former tender and bury the Panthers but this is the type of game that Leaf fans have grown accustomed to seeing their team struggle to win.