TORONTO - Back-to-back games and trailing after two periods have been a lethal combination to quash the Leafs since the lockout when they stopped appearing in playoffs.
So it makes sense that reversal of fortune on those fronts should be fuelling their success in 2011. Instead of fading in Philly in a high-tempo game after playing at home, the Leafs looked fresh and the Flyers spent in the late going. For the second time in 48 hours, the Leafs turned a 2-1 deficit after 40 minutes into a 3-2 win.
That’s four such comebacks this season, double their 2009-10 total and five sweeps of back-to-backs since Jan. 1. Toronto had less than 10 of those four pointers between 2005 and the first week of January.
“I was shocked that we had that much energy,” coach Ron Wilson said after Thursday’s win. “It’s a young group ... some of the lumps and lessons we took earlier in the year, we’re a better team for it.”
The year began with the Leafs’ penalty killing unit as their special teams weak link, but poor power-play numbers could yet be the epitaph for their playoff hopes.
What bounty the Leafs have had with the man advantage has been far too concentrated this season. In nine games, Toronto has two or more power-play goals and is 25-for-52 in that span, but in all other games, they are 18-for-212, including Thursday’s 0-for-7 showing, its worst night of the season.
That’s on top of 0-for-13 the prevous three games.
Though the Leafs are getting more chances and crisp puck movement, something’s missing and they can’t blame it on pass-happy Tomas Kaberle anymore.
“Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to the other team’s goalie and penalty killers,” Wilson said. “I didn’t like the first two power plays, but as the game went on, I leaned more on the Mikhail Grabovski line more. I thought they were effective.”
Square peg, round hole
Ex-Leaf Kris Versteeg said his trade to Philadelphia came “out of left field” and that he was “shocked” to be moved.
If so, he must have been living in a cave. Hockey Night In Canada reported in early January that teams were after Versteeg, which general manager Brian Burke didn’t deny. By that point it was clear Versteeg wasn’t going to rise above third-line status after his all too brief trial as left winger with Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak. When approached for comment about his situation, he was ambivalent about the prospect of being moved.
Versteeg’s attraction to the Leafs was that he could play three positions, and in that vein it’s true he never had the chance to show that versatility. Bozak’s status as Kessel’s centre was not challenged, even though his production versus ice time has been very low and Versteeg played a stretch in the middle during Chicago’s Stanley Cup season.
Game on /p>
When James Reimer said his team could ‘smell the playoffs” he wasn’t kidding. Most of the Leafs played with a desperation in Philly on Thursday that matched the calendar ... The smart pinches by Luke Schenn and the one by Dion Phaneuf that resulted in the tying goal were the kind of plays the Leafs weren’t executing until the all-star break, and Darryl Boyce’s winner speak for itself ... Phaneuf beat Jordan Staal and Mike Richards on big plays the past two nights, two of the top defensive players in the NHL. “We have two or three leaders pulling on the rope here,” Phaneuf said ... You could hear Bozak ringing a shot off of the post all the way back to Toronto as a frustrating offensive season continues ... A pre-game flu bug took out Jeff Carter of the Flyers, but Toronto survived a heavy collision in the warmup between big men Phaneuf and Mike Komisarek ... Rookie Keith Aulie did well in his first NHL fight, using his 6-foot-5 wing span to get at Scott Hartnell. Nick Kypreos of Sportsnet tagged him ‘Muhammad’ Aulie afterward ... Tim Brent and Fredrik Sjostrom both had short-handed breakaways stopped by Sergei Bobrovsky, though both were getting hacked and whacked from behind ... Komisarek neatly broke up a 2-on-1 in the third period.
Toronto thought it had its most 20-goal scorers since 2008-09 when Clarke MacArthur was initially announced as getting the team’s first goal. But it eventually was awarded to Nikolai Kulemin. When MacArthur does get No. 20, he Kulemin, Grabovski and Kessel will join Alexei Ponikarovsky, Niklas Hagman, Jason Blake and Grabovski reaching the mark in the same year ... Next up for the Leafs are the Chicago Blackhawks, marking the first time since the autumn of 1998 that Toronto will take on the previous year’s Cup finalists in consecutive games. Back in ’98, the Leafs faced the Wings and Wilson’s Washington Capitals ... Wilson: “We still have 17 games to go and a lot of work to do, but we’re shrinking (the Eastern field) down.”