Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Maple Leafs Thrash T-Bay In First Game of the New Year

Phaneuf battles with Downie. The first of many
battles between Downie and the Leafs.

After 2011 ended on a sour note for the Leafs there was a lot of time spent discussing the teams penalty kill strategies. The penalty kill, which is the worst in the league, has cost them more than a handful of points and is arguable the main reason the Leafs ended the year tenth in the Eastern conference. Toronto needs to fix the problem and fix it fast if they want to get back in the playoffs.

The pressure was on and Toronto needed to come out hard against Tampa Bay... It didn't help that Lecavalier scored in the first minute of the game. That would be the first of ten goals on what would turn out to be a very entertaining hockey game. Later in the first period Lupul would answer for the Maple Leafs and a few minutes later Carl Gunnarson would give Toronto the lead heading into the second period.

The second period was one of the more entertaining periods of hockey I've seen this season. There was rough stuff between Downie and several of the Leafs players. There was also a ton of back and forth hockey where we saw four goals in under two minutes... I'm sure all of Leafs Nation were biting their nails through the period. The Leafs would hold a 4-3 lead until the final minute of the second period where Matt Frattin scored the fifth goal for the Maple Leafs. Phaneuf and Kessel would score in the third period for a 7-3 final as the Leafs won in their first game of the new year.

  • Phillipe Dupuis cleared waivers and reported to duty with the Toronto Marlies.
  • Korbinian Holzer was once again recalled by the Leafs are participated in the pre-game warm up, but didn't play.
  • Joey Crabb was bumped from the fourth line to the second line for tonight's game. This meant a demotion for Matt Frattin. Although at first I wasn't too sure about the move, Crabb worked well with Kulemin and Grabovski and the Leafs were able to roll all four lines for the majority of the game.
  • Joffrey Lupul had 4 points in the game tonight. Including an assist on a very pretty lob pass to Grabovski in the second period.
  • The Leafs penalty kill was perfect on the night. They killed off all five of the Lightning's powerplays including a 5-on-3.
  • Jonas Gustavson started for the Leafs. He played steady enough to get the Leafs the win, but he didn't play a spectacular game. This is by no means a knock on Gustavson, but if this was his chance to steal some more ice time from James Reimer, he didn't quite manage to do so.
  • Tampa Bay's goaltending really struggled. After the fourth Leaf goal Dwayne Roloson came in to relieve Mathieu Garon, but didn't manage any better as he allowed three goals on 21 shots.
With all the depth the Leafs have in goal, maybe they can make a deal sending one of their goalies to Tampa... I mean, it can't get any worse in net for the Lightning, anything would be an improvement. (Yes, I am aware this is wishful thinking, but I like to be optimistic... very, very optimistic)

On the injury front, the Leafs expect Mike Brown, Tyler Bozak, Mike Komisarek and Colby Armstrong to be ready to return to action within the next week and a half or so. This is good news for Toronto who have struggled to keep a healthy amount of regulars in their line-up. This may be bad news for players like Joey Crabb, Matt Frattin, Darryl Boyce and Keith Aulie. For the most part these players have played well since being called up by the Maple Leafs, but with all these regulars set to come back someone is going to have to sit out.

The Leafs record jumped to 19-15-5 and although they still sit tenth in the east, there are only tree points separating them from the fifth place Pittsburgh Penguins. Toronto needs to carry the momentum from tonight's win into their next handful of games and put a win streak together to keep pace with the teams ahead of them. Ottawa currently holds the sixth spot due in large part to a three game winning streak. The Jets also are on a three game win-streak and hold the ninth spot in the east. The Capitals have won their last four game and find themselves in seventh.

With the win over Tampa, the Leafs are 9-5-4 at home this season. Of the twelve games the Leafs play in the month of January, nine of them are played on home ice. This is a big opportunity for Toronto to slide back into the top eight and make their way back into the playoffs. The Leafs continue their current home streak as they host the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night.