February 1, 2012
Leafs rebound to shut out Penguins
By TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency
TORONTO - He had just scored a rather large goal, but Clarke MacArthur couldn't help but notice the zeroes beside Evgeni Malkin's name on the scoresheet Wednesday night.
"For me, it's fun when an offensive line comes in and you (help) ruin their night," MacArthur said after the Maple Leafs' 1-0 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Air Canada Centre.
"Those are hard games to win and usually when you play offensive lines, you will get some opportunities. We did most of the checking role last year and we did well with that."
If you're not keeping score at home, it's four games in a row that the line of MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin has been effective against the opposition's best player. Before the all-star break, it helped result in two wins against John Tavares and the New York Islanders. Since the break, it helped result in gaining three of a possible four points in two games against Malkin and the Penguins.
Next up is Jason Spezza and the Ottawa Senators, as the Leafs will visit the nation's capital on Saturday night.
When the Leafs' designated checkers couldn't fully contain Malkin, the leading scorer in the National Hockey League, goalie James Reimer stood tall as the final line of defence.
Reimer, in just his second start in a month, made 25 saves, with four on Malkin, for his second shutout of the season. That the Penguins hit the iron behind him three times, including a deflection by James Neal just before MacArthur scored at 13:55 of the third, was fortuitous. But Reimer saw nearly every shot he faced, and benefited from a solid defensive performance by his teammates.
"To get the shutout was just a cherry on top," Reimer said. "It's not indicative of how I played. It's just indicative of how the guys battled out there for me.
"You want to go in there and play well, but when it comes down to it, you care about your team and winning. I want to get this team and this city to the playoffs."
The Leafs played with a completely healthy lineup for the first time this season, as winger Colby Armstrong and John-Michael Liles returned from concussions.
The victory was nice and all, but it's time for Leafs coach Ron Wilson to light a fire under Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul. He tried before the break by briefly breaking them up, but that didn't get them on track.
Kessel has two goals and one assist in 10 games. Lupul, who played in his 500th NHL game on Wednesday, has one goal and four assists in that span, though three assists were in one game. Both are minus-6 during their respective slumps.
If the Leafs really have designs on moving much higher in the Eastern Conference standings -- they're in seventh place with 58 points -- Kessel and Lupul have to get going.
Though Grabovski and MacArthur have picked up the pace, general manager Brian Burke remains in the hunt for a forward, and players such as Tuomo Ruutu of the Carolina Hurricanes and James van Riemsdyk of the Philadelphia Flyers continue to circulate in trade speculation.
Neither the Leafs nor the Penguins, whose eight-game winning streak ended, could capitalize on power plays in the third period. The Leafs have killed off all 19 short-handed situations they have faced in 2012.
MacArthur got the winner when he took a pass from Grabovski and pulled the puck to his forehand to beat netminder Brent Johnson. That capped a third period during which the Leafs didn't let up, unlike a night earlier when they blew a three-goal lead and lost 5-4 to the Penguins in a shootout in Pittsburgh.
"I think it's huge, just how we felt after the last game to come back and answer like we did," MacArthur said. "That's a lot of character in here. To get three out of four (points) against a team that is rolling, it feels good. Third period, there was no real momentum shift and we just stuck with it all the way."