Leafs hotter now than ever in Wilson era
Press box crowded with visiting scouts ... We're going streaking! ... Komisarek close to milestone
ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency
|Oilers forward Sam Gagner takes a shot on Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ont., Feb. 6, 2012. (MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI Agency)
TORONTO - It couldn’t have come at a more significant time, really, but the Leafs are as hot right now as they’ve been at any point in the Ron Wilson era.
By prevailing in the wide-open sprint that Monday’s 6-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers turned out to be, the Leafs have now won five of their past six giving them a huge early push in the playoff race.
That lone loss, the frustrating shootout failure to the Penguins last Tuesday in Pittsburgh, still allowed them a point, giving them a big 11 in their past six contests.
Such a streak has only happened once since Wilson started here in the 2008-09 season. The Leafs got similarly hot from Feb. 22,
2009 through March 5, 2009 in a late-season playoff push that ultimately fell short. This streak, clearly, has far more significance.
“We’re playing confident and we’re playing well,” said Leafs centre Tyler Bozak, whose second-period goal stood up as the game-winner. “We just want to worry about our next game.
“We don’t want to get too overconfident here and think it’s going to be too easy, we just have to stay consistent.”
Consistent has been the hallmark of this team throughout as they’ve avoided long losing streaks. And a run like the current one has them in perfect position for the stretch drive.
The Leafs penalty-kill streak is now up to 15 games, but the stat got padded in bizarre fashion as neither team recorded a penalty. It was the first penalty-free game for the Leafs since March 28, 2001 ... The Oilers were without rookie star Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the third. Official word from the team is that RNH aggravated the shoulder injury ... Phil Kessel’s two goals — one into an empty net — gave him 91 as a Leaf and moved him into 55th on the team’s all-time roster. With 29, Kessel would seem a cinch to crack 40 for the first time in his career ... Yes, that was Tim Connolly getting an assist on Kessel’s first goal, the centre’s first point in seven games ... You know the trade deadline is fast approaching and the market heating up when the list of scouts causes a minor overflow in the ACC press box. Officially, 30 were listed as been in attendance Monday with two from the struggling Blackhawks ... Oilers star Jordan Eberle just missed his first career hat trick in the third when he rang one off the crossbar with eight minutes left in the third ... The young Oilers sure can score, but for the third consecutive game they allowed a minimum of four goals. Time to draft a D-man?
CALL IT THE STREAK(S)
While white-hot Oiler Sam Gagner continued his scoring burst with an assist on Eberle’s first goal just 21 seconds in, a number of streaking Leafs continued their production. Kessel (two goals, one assist) surpassed 300 career points (302) and has six points in his past two ... Next up, rookie defenceman Jake Gardiner, with his second goal of the season, has five points in his past five ... Moving on, how about centre Bozak, whose brilliant individual effort on a steal in front of the Oilers net has five points in his last four. With 31 points (10 goals, 21 assists) Bozak is just one shy of the career high 32 he recorded last season ... Moving right along, Clarke MacArthur’s 17th goal of the season improved his point streak to five games. His assist on Kessel’s empty netter gives him five goals and four assists in that stretch ... And finally, no Leaf is hotter than Mikhail Grabovski. The speedy centre’s two-assist night — including an electrifying rush to set up Gardiner’s goal, extended his points streak to six games where he averaging two a night (three goals and nine assists). Grabovski was arguably the best player on the ice, giving up no speed to the young, hotshot Oilers.
Wilson is particularly impressed with Gardiner’s play of late after a break in early January. “It’s simple, he kind of just ran out of gas,” Wilson said of the wall the rookie seemed to hit earlier. “Now he just seems to be energized again. His whole game is skating. If he’s not skating, he gets in trouble.” ... The Leafs probably should have headed to the first intermission trailing 3-2 after an apparent Ryan Smyth goal was emphatically waved off for what at best was marginal goaltender interference ... A blind clearing attempt by John-Michael Liles from behind his own net led to Brad Petry’s weak goal from the point in the second and allowed the Oilers back in the game ... The Leafs came out on their heels early in the third allowing the speedy Oilers a number of good chances. James Reimer arguably made bigger saves in that period than he did in either of his shutouts the previous two ... Reimer’s shutout streak ended at 138 minutes and 57 seconds ... Leafs defenceman Mike Komisarek is just three games away from his 500th career NHL game. He’d be there by now if he wasn’t a healthy scratch for the past three games, his longest streak in the press box this season.