December 6, 2010
Leafs finally get a road win
By MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency
TORONTO - If you listened closely, you could almost hear the sigh of relief by the Maple Leafs coming all the way from the U.S. capital Monday night.
Indeed, one of the ugliest road losing streaks in recent memory is now an afterthought, thanks to Toronto’s 5-4 shootout victory over the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center.
Yes, it is finally over.
And now that it is, you can bet Ron Wilson’s young team won’t be looking back in the rear view mirror at their road struggles any time soon.
They have good reason.
In the end, the Leafs went 50 days between road wins, their previous one coming on Oct. 15 when they defeated the New York Rangers 4-3 in overtime at Madison Square Garden. From that point on, they absorbed eight consecutive losses away from the Air Canada Centre.
When you crunch some of the numbers of that eight-game free fall, you understand how poorly this team had performed prior to their outstanding heroics against Alexander Ovechkin & Co. on Monday.
n During the eight-game road slide, the Leafs were outscored by the opposition 28-8.
n In four of those eight defeats, they were shut out.
n In that time, their power play was pathetic, scoring just one goal in 35 opportunities.
n The penalty kill, meanwhile, was just as awful, surrendering 11 goals in 26 chances.
n Opponents outshot Toronto over the eight games, 250-218.
After looking at those stats, it’s little wonder that Leafs players came off the bench looking as if they had won the Stanley Cup after Jonas Gustavsson stopped Alexander Semin in the shootout to seal the deal Monday.
Wilson has been pleading with his players to go into the “dirty” areas in front of the net for weeks. It was part of practice once again the past few days. They finally listened. Tim Brent’s deflection to narrow the Washington lead to 4-3 in the third period came while he was standing at the edge of the crease ... Then, Clarke MacArthur’s tying goal less than a minute later was a two-foot putt from the doorstep ... Now that wasn’t so hard, was it? ... “We were desperate and just started throwing things at the net,” Wilson told reporters afterward ... MacArthur looked to the heavens after notching the equalizer. “I can’t really repeat what I said — I was just happy to score,” he laughed.
With J-S Giguere dealing with his nagging groin injury again, Jonas Gustavsson did not show much rust ... Gustavsson’s handful of key third period saves, along with a timely stop by his goal post off Semin allowed the Leafs to complete their late two-goal comeback and force the shootout ... His shootout stop on rookie Mathieu Perreault was incredible, redirecting the shot with his stick after the puck already was behind him ... “He’s so competitive,” MacArthur said of Gustavsson. “That’s why you want to play so hard for him.” ... With James Reimer once again called up to back up Gustavsson while Giguere is on the shelf, it would be nice to see the kid get his first NHL regular season start in the near future. There are some in the Maple Leaf organization who, behind closed doors, feel Reimer has the skills and makeup to be a No. 1 goalie one day.
Passing the buck?
During his tenure behind the Leafs bench, Pat Quinn’s explanation for his team’s offensive woes often would be a simple one ... “We’re trying to pass the (bleepin’) puck into the net,” the ornery Irishman would complain. Despite the win, Wilson could have made the same claim Monday night ... The most glaring example came during a first period 2-on-1 by Tyler Bozak and Colby Armstrong. Bozak’s centring pass left Armstrong with a perfect scoring chance from the high slot. But rather than shoot, Armstrong dished it back to Bozak, who was on a bad angle ... It’s nice to share with your teammates, guys, but you can’t be giving up prime opportunities from that spot on the ice when you play on a team thirsting for goals on most nights ... They would figure that out later.
Last minute of play
Interesting stat: Kris Versteeg has registered a shot in every game but one this season ... Rookie Nazem Kadri once again was robbed by an opposing goalie in his quest for that elusive first NHL goal.