TORONTO - Joffrey Lupul left Maple Leafs fans one final excellent impression before he heads off to the all-star game in Ottawa.
Lupul’s determination and speed created the Leafs’ second goal, one Toronto badly needed in the third period after the visiting New York Islanders made it clear they still had a pulse.
Near the end of a shift, and already with one rink-long rush done, Lupul held on to the puck instead of dumping it into the Islanders zone and peeling off for a change. Lupul fired a shot at Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov, who made a relatively easy save. But the rebound was swatted over the goal line by Phil Kessel, who barely broke stride as he skated to the net.
That gave the Leafs a 2-0 lead, putting to bed the Isles’ hopes for a comeback in an eventual 3-0 Toronto victory.
The assist was Lupul’s 52nd point of the season, leaving him one short of his career high of 53.
What would it mean for Lupul to equal that personal best, provided he gets at least one point on Tuesday night against the Islanders?
“It’s kind of something I have not really thought about,” Lupul said. “I did not know that (he is on the cusp of recording his most points in one season). So many games and things are moving so quick here, it’s just focus on the game and maybe something like that will sink in over the break.”
As for the all-star game, Lupul, an alternate captain for the game, received a text from captain Zdeno Chara on Monday but did not have a chance to respond.
The Leafs spoke in the morning about staying out of the penalty box because of the Isles’ dangerous power play (nine goals in their previous 33 opportunities) and Toronto was true to its word, to the point it was not penalized once. It’s the second time in seven games that has happened. The Leafs have gone 10 games in a row without allowing a power-play goal, killing off 16 minors. Not since January 1964 had they gone nine games without giving up a goal while down a man ... When he began his NHL career in 2009, one of the criticisms of John Tavares was his weak skating (at least, by the high standards set in the best hockey league on the planet). But there was Tavares blowing past Leafs defencemen Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson in the first period for a scoring chance. It’s a play Tavares, who concentrates on improving his skating during the summer, couldn’t have made a season or two ago. One other big improvement in Tavares’ game — he’s next to impossible to knock off the puck. Physical maturity has helped him in a big way ... People shouldn’t get caught up in the idea that James Reimer needs to play. No, he doesn’t, at least not now, if Jonas Gustavsson continues to be sharp. Gustavsson should get the start again on Long Island on Tuesday night, and Wilson said he probably would go with the lanky Swede. That’s three shutouts in January for Gustavsson, for those not keeping track ... Speaking of Wilson and goaltending, he made an interesting comment following the morning skate that might have been just an aside. When talking about Nabokov, who was coached by Wilson in San Jose, Wilson said: “That’s a huge plus, a veteran presence in net.” In Gustavsson and Reimer, the Leafs don’t have that ... One reason why Tavares’ 12-game points streak ended: The Leafs rubbed him out at every opportunity. Nothing overly hard or anything, mind you, but just enough to let Tavares know it wasn’t going to an easy night. Too bad for Tavares’ supporters, as the Oakville resident had gathered at least 29 tickets for the game.
FROM THE HASH MARKS
Is there any chance Gustavsson can take lessons of a different sort during the all-star break? Perhaps those that teach him how to play the puck properly behind the net? Tavares stripped him in the first period, leading to a tense moment. You figure Wilson might want to tie Gustavsson to his posts ... Veteran Isles defenceman Steve Staios is 28 games shy of 1,000 for his NHL career, but will the 38-year-old Hamilton native get to the significant milestone this season? Staios has been a healthy scratch for the past four games. The Islanders have 35 games remaining in the regular season ... Leafs forward Colby Armstrong probably would be fine to play after recovering from a concussion, but the Leafs would have to send a player to the minors to make room for him and don’t want to do that with one game left before the break. However, when games resume, someone will have to be demoted. It could be Nazem Kadri, who gets it on some shifts but doesn’t on others. It won’t be an easy decision, because the Leafs need goals, and Kadri brings that potential. It wouldn’t make much sense to send Joey Crabb back to the Marlies. He’s a defensively responsible player and rarely strays out of position. With eight goals and eight assists in 37 games, Crabb contributes regularly enough on offence to keep him around. Darryl Boyce, who has missed four games because of back spasms, could find himself back with the Marlies after the break ... The Leafs hit 180 man-games lost to injury with Armstrong, Boyce and John-Michael Liles (concussion) out on Monday ... The Leafs are 18-0-0 when leading after 40 minutes.