More zeros for Kessel, Lupul
LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
|Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel skates against the Sabres at First Niagara Center in Buffalo, N.Y., Jan. 13, 2012. (DOUG BENZ/Reuters)
TORONTO - No one expected Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul to hold on to their great scoring clip all season.
So Tuesday’s zeroes against the Sabres in Toronto were quickly forgotten in the shutout win.
And even Friday night’s First Niagara power failure in the 3-2 return loss can be excused when Kessel had some nice chances and Lupul came within inches of tying the game in the third period.
That is the longest stretch that both have been silenced, but it will be imperative they make some kind of contribution the next two games.
The conference-leading New York Rangers are at the ACC on Saturday and the Ottawa Senators follow on Tuesday, two clubs ahead of the Leafs compared to the lower echelon sides they mostly have built their five-game home winning streak around.
If the Leafs are serious about looking ahead to solidifying a playoff berth, there is no better time than now for their big line to get it going.
That said, a tip of the hat to Nikolai Kulemin, who has been about the best Leaf the past two games, in a physical and creative fashion. Mikhail Grabovski never stopped believing in his friend, while Joey Crabb seems to have inherited Clarke MacArthur’s role from last year. When the top two lines start clicking on the same night, the Leafs score their way out of most problems.
But don’t expect general manager Brian Burke to stop looking for help down the middle.
Like most members of the Toronto and Buffalo media, TSN devoted much of its pre-game coverage to the struggles of Ryan Miller and the rise of Jonas Gustvasson. Former goalie Jamie McLennan gave detailed analysis on how Miller has dropped further back in his net and into a tentative stance since the Milan Lucic hit and how Gustavsson has been a half-second faster tracking the puck.
Of course, all the prognosticators were flabbergasted when Gustavsson was beaten on two early, easy goals. Miller ended the night as a game star, though Gustavsson recovered for some big saves. Should people have doubted Miller at home against Toronto? He’s now on a 9-1 run against the Leafs on his side of the Peace Bridge.
ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK
On top of the Kulemin bodycheck in the first game of the series on Patrick Kaleta, Nazem Kadri came back from a potentially damaging knee-on-knee from Thomas Vanek to rock Brayden McNabb, one of two hits for Kadri on the shift. Add Dion Phaneuf’s ability to deck opponents in the open ice and the Leafs are giving themselves another dimension to go with their speed.
The Leafs are now 1-5-1 in their past six road games, but don’t travel again until Jan. 24 to Long Island ... Crabb’s unusual streak of road goals continues — all seven away from the ACC ... A Buffalo News cartoon on Friday had two depictions of Miller, one standing tall in his net in past years and now the tiny ‘Miller Light’ version, being swallowed by giant twine ... Grabovski now has points in 10 of his past 11 games. He collected his 100th NHL assist on Crabb’s goal ... Shades of Bryan McCabe at HSBC as Jordan Leopold dangerously batted around a puck near his empty net ... That was the first time since Boxing Day that Buffalo took a lead into the third period ... Those weren’t fighter jets Crabb was talking about between periods when he praised “F-1 and F-2”. He was talking about Toronto’s feisty fore-checking units.