Leafs blast Oilers, Jets are next

Maple Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf battles Oilers forward Sam Gagner for the puck at the Air...

Maple Leafs defenceman Dion Phaneuf battles Oilers forward Sam Gagner for the puck at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., Feb. 6, 2012. (MARK BLINCH/Reuters)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:00 AM ET

TORONTO - If Phil Kessel keeps feasting on Canadian opponents like this, the next two weeks stand to be a virtual buffet for the gifted winger and his Maple Leafs.

After lighting up the Ottawa Senators for a goal and two assists in a 5-0 drubbing in the nation’s capital on Saturday, Kessel followed up that performance with another three- point night in the Leafs’ 6-3 victory over the Edmonton Oilers at the Air Canada Centre on Monday night.

In just a 48-hour span, Kessel produced a total of six points in back-to-back games against Canadian teams. Given the Leafs’ coming schedule, he’ll have plenty of opportunity to keep up that pace.

Sure, Saturday is Hockey Day in Canada for most teams. For the Maple Leafs, however, the celebration of the sport in this country will last more like two weeks.

In a span of just 15 days, the Leafs schedule has them playing seven-of-eight games against Canadian foes, including two against the Oilers and one versus each of the Senators, Winnipeg Jets, Montreal Canadiens, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks.

And if Ron Wilson’s team is as successful against the remainder of their Canadian cousins as they’ve been in their first two outings of this crucial eight-game stretch, it could go a long way toward securing the team’s first playoff berth since 2004.

The Leafs kicked off their run against Canadian squads with a decisive triumph over Senators on Saturday, a game in which James Reimer set a Leaf record for most shots stopped by a Toronto goalie (49) en route to a shutout.

Reimer was nowhere near as perfect on Monday night against the Oilers at the Air Canada Centre. In the end, he didn’t have to be.

Buoyed by a second consecutive offensive explosion, the Leafs defeated the young Oilers 6-3, giving them an impressive 6-1-1 record in their past eight. If you combine their wins against Ottawa and Edmonton, the Leafs have outscored their Canadian opponents 10-3 in the past two outings heading into Tuesday’s game in Winnipeg versus the Jets.

In the process, the Leafs managed to leapfrog the idle Senators into seventh spot in the Eastern Conference standings.

“We’re going pretty good right now,” acknowledged Kessel, whose two goal-one assist performance against Edmonton gives him 57 points in 53 games this season. “We’ve got to keep it going, though.”

The game was billed as a matchup between young Oilers forward Sam Gagner, the NHL’s first star of the week, versus Reimer, who copped third star honours thanks to back-to-back shutouts.

Gagner quickly stole the spotlight from the Leaf goalie by assisting on Jordan Eberle’s goal just 21 seconds into the game, putting the visitors up 1-0. For Gagner, who entered the game having recorded 11 points in his previous two outings, the hot streak continued.

But the Leafs would rebound to score six of the next eight goals, with their top two lines doing most of the damage.

“You don’t want to let the first one in like that,” Reimer said. “But we fought back from it.

“(The Oilers) are a young team with a lot of skill. They keep coming after you.”

Kessel led the charge for Toronto, scoring twice and adding an assist.

Clarke MacArthur, with his fifth in five games, Jake Gardiner, Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul scored the other Leafs goals.

With the NHL trade deadline of Feb. 27 looming just three weeks down the road, 20 NHL teams were represented by scouts or management types in the Air Canada Centre press box. Included in that group was, among others, St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong.

There have been plenty of rumours that the Oilers might deal Gagner, but trading Ales Hemsky would make more sense. Yes, the Oilers could use a big-time defenceman, but why surrender a kid like Gagner who, at 22, finally seems to be understanding what it takes to get his game to the next level?

On the Leafs side of things, Brian Burke has been working the phones in an attempt to pull off a deal. But, given the team’s recent success, does he settle for just making a small ripple on the trade market instead of a big splash?

That remains to be seen.

In the meantime, the Leafs meet the Jets on Tuesday at the MCI Centre, referred to by Gardiner as “one of the loudest barns in the league.”

Just the atmosphere Kessel seems to be thriving in these days.

Meanwhile, reports suggest that an official announcement confirming the Leafs-Red Wings Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2013, at Michigan Stadium could come as early as Thursday.

CANADA RUN FOR BUDS

Just call it Hockey Month in Canada for the Maple Leafs.

Beginning this past Saturday in Ottawa, the Leafs kicked off a two week stretch in which they meet every Canadian team. In the end, seven of their eight games over a 15-day period are against clubs based in the Great White North.

Here’s a look:

Feb. 4: 5-0 win @ Ottawa

James Reimer stops 49 shots for shutout.

Feb. 6: 6-3 vs. Edmonton

Two goals and an assist for Phil Kessel.

Feb 7: @ Winnipeg

Jonas Gustavsson slated to start but things could change.

Feb 9: @ Philadelphia

Battle of the Schenn brothers (Luke and Brayden).

Feb. 11: vs. Montreal

Mats Sundin’s banner raised to rafters.

Feb 14; @ Calgary

Dion Phaneuf returns to Calgary to play for second time since trade.

Feb 15: @ Edmonton

Oilers will be out for revenge.

Feb 18: @ Vancouver

Canucks won first meeting of season vs. Leafs in Toronto.


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