November 28, 2011
Leafs now tormentors
By LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
ANAHEIM - For the past couple of autumns, home and road, the Maple Leafs always seemed to be the team generating the gossip about trades, firings and lineup changes.
What a change of pace for them to play well against so many flux teams of late and let someone else's players and management get the grief. Washington's Bruce Boudreau and Ducks' Randy Carlyle were coaches getting heat and had Toronto not been winded from playing on less than a day's rest, Carolina's Paul Maurice and his underachieving team of ex-Leafs, might be in more trouble than they already are. Stars such as Alex Ovechkin, Steve Stamkos and Anaheim's entire big three line was largely silent against Toronto.
One-sided losses to the Leafs have also made life harder on execs such as Capitals' George McPhee. In Anaheim, which has made two big trades the past couple of years with the Leafs that have leaned heavily in the latter's favour, there must be some second guessing about losing both current top five scorer Joffrey Lupul and rapidly maturing defence prospect Jake Gardiner. The Leafs' win pushed Anaheim to the NHL basement.
In the Toronto room, meanwhile, Ron Wilson has survived two critical months, keeping his team in the hunt for not only first in the Northeast, but top spot in the conference. With one game to go in November, the Leafs have won four of their past five, though the coming home-and-home with Boston will be a true measuring stick.
While too early to say if his contract extension from Brian Burke is warranted, Wilson has wrung 15 points from his team this month, with starting goalie James Reimer gone a month and numerous other key injuries. Toronto was 3-7-3 last November, but just recorded its best first-half road trip of at least four games since 2003.
The announcement that the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan will not be selling its controlling stake might help Wilson, if it means Burke won't be working for any radically different management. President and CEO Richard Peddie is stepping down in a month, but the only name put forward so far, at least internally, is Burke ally Tom Anselmi.
If the Leafs keep up the kind of forecheck pressure they've demonstrated the past few road games, then Reimer will be able to ease his way back into action without having to be the difference every night as he was from, the moment he took over last season. Toronto has scored 22 goals for Jonas Gustavsson in his past four starts and he played well enough to resume backup duties upon Reimer's return and let the Leafs send Ben Scrivens back for more seasoning on the Marlies.
Overlooked in the Leafs' goal rush of late is Gustavsson's improved positional play, essentially just embracing a less complicated game and getting lots of help from the defence.
Not losing face
Losing faceoff whiz David Steckel was obviously going to make a difference against the Ducks, but the good news is that Mikhail Grabovski returned from a leg injury at the right time and gave a new look to the fourth line. There was no sense unplugging Tim Connolly from the good job he's done with Clarke MacArthur, as Connolly helped set up MacArthur's goal on Sunday, his third straight game with one. Steckel hopes to be back for the start of the Boston series.
Nikolai Kulemin, who hasn't scored since October, and Philippe Dupuis, who hasn't scored at all, won't get better chances than Sunday night on close-in opportunities on Jonas Hiller ... Connolly has 12 points in 12 games for the Leafs, MacArthur recorded his 30th Toronto goal on Sunday, Lupul now has 47 points in 52 games and Phil Kessel 150 in 175 ... Sportsnet startled viewers by coming off a break with Wilson footage behind the bench from his early days as coach of the expansion Ducks. The darker hair and lack of a white Movember moustache was quite the contrast ... Toronto is 9-0-0 when leading after two periods ... Anaheim remains the only team Kessel has yet to score on in the NHL.