Well, I've said more than once that I thought the Leafs played their best with Luke Schenn out of the lineup, but then I went ahead and named him one of my notables of the week, concluding that simply reducing his ice time would bring the Leafs more success than benching him would do. I thought Luke was doing much, much better - all of the reasons he was benched seemed to be from earlier in the season, not by virtue of his past week's play - but Ron Wilson disagreed and sat him out three games in a row. I was surprised.
Vesa Toskala was the champion for the Leafs again swallowing up almost 180 minutes of ice time in three consecutive starts after playing four games in a row the week before. It would only be a matter of time before his "hotness" wore down. The Leafs will have to learn to manage his ice time, just like with Luke Schenn. Toskala is at his best when he's playing a 45-50 game season (not 65+). Of course, this is because Gustavsson remains injured and Anderson isn't really a reliable NHL goalie. I understand. But don't leave Tosk in there for so long or you'll break him. He's like a poached egg in the microwave - it's gets better and better and then pops.
The Leafs are closing in on playing .500 hockey (which basically will reset that God-awful start to the season) and brings them closer to the middle of the pack while fighting for a playoff spot. This is huge if they want to bring some credibility back to the club.
Top Leafs this week:
1) Matty Stajan is an easy choice with 6 points, 2 goals and 4 assists, along with a plus-two rating and 10 shots on net. He's showing that for the time being he can serve as the Leafs no. 1 centreman while John Mitchell (who's not really a No. 1 centreman either) is on the shelf with an injury. Good for him - a solid week. When he plays like this, you can see his added value to this team. They've been developing him for a while, and it's good to see that given the opportunity he can be an offensive leader.
2) Phil Kessel has another stellar week by contributing 3 goals in three games (all in a row) while adding two assists along with it, giving him 5 points in that same span. He's a contributor who's consistent, which the Leafs needed sorely. His impact is tangible and his excellence is exciting to fans - everything that the GM promised when he signed the player. It's great to see. We still haven't heard anything negative about Kessel's work ethic, either - a big plus. He led the team in shots on net with 13, as well.
3) Alexei Ponikarovski remained consistent, as well. The coach doesn't really like Poni's speed (although I think he's fast) but he likes his hands and ability to put shots past goalies. Two goals, three assists, five points, a plus-2 and a 12 shots on net demonstrate his abilities and value over the last week.
Notable(s) - good: They're still playing strong, and that's important. I would expect them to cool off, esp. considering they're playing much more formidable teams in the next week or two. No more Islanders and Panthers, but Bruins and Sabres coming up.
Bad: The Leafs have to step their play up against their division rivals. While Montreal and Ottawa aren't significant forces in the Eastern Conference, the Bruins and Sabres are, and the Leafs have been awful against them. There is no hope for the playoffs if you can't be competitive with the teams in your own division.
Where do they stand now?
As of today (Dec. 22) they are last in their division still, 3 points behind the Canadiens (down from 5!) with a game at hand. Over the past 10 games the Leafs are 5-4-1 (facing tougher teams in the last while). They've jumped up to 12th in the conference, up from 14th since the Philadelphia Flyers dropped into a free-fall, only 1 point back of Tampa Bay and 5 points out of a playoff spot. Not bad, considering the devastating beginning to the season. Overall in the entire NHL, the Leafs are tied for 26th spot, up two places from last time - (notably, 7 of the worst 10 teams are from the Eastern Conference).
- - - - -
Leafs beat down on the Senators, finally, 3 - 2.
After this game the Senators lost Jason Spezza and Nick Foligno (so you're welcome everyone else who gets to the play the Sens for the next little while). Matt Carkner drubbed Colton Orr in the face with an anvil-like right hand, which left Orr's face looking like President Mikhail Gorbachev's face.
- - - - -
Then the Leafs were put the bet soundly, 6-3 by the Phoenix Coyotes
This loss got Luke Schenn out of the press box and back into the lineup. Notably, a friend of mine had shaved his face (first time since the Leafs had gone on a winning streak) and feared that this might instigate a major losing streak. He might be right.)
Leafs undeservingly lose 5-2The Leafs themselves were 95% good, except the one that makes a big difference, the f-ing goalie, was as bad as could be. He was letting in minor-league shots (maybe Peewee shots) from all over.
It was unacceptable and while the Leafs only gave up 10 shots to the mid-way point of the second period (excellent defence!) Toskala still let in four goals. Unacceptable. He juggled a dump in with his catching mitt and dropped it into his own net - the coach should have put him in the press-box immediately after that. That bonehead play marked the return of Gustavsson and likely the last time we'll see Toskala for a couple of games.