The best week of hockey the Leafs have played all season, and in cooperation with the week before, they're putting together a respectable streak of points, which is good. Granted, the teams they're beating haven't been strong, powerful or 'on a roll,' but the beat them nonetheless. The best team they played was Buffalo, which is a great hockey team, and they lost soundly, 3-0, so there's still work to do before we can consider them competitive, but at least they can challenge the weaker teams in the league by now.
Top Leafs this week:
1) Phil Kessel - an easy choice. He's been as dynamic and productive as he was hyped to be, and he's still reaching the peak of his abilities (considering he missed the entire preseason and conditioning due to surgery). Four goals, 2 assists and six points in four games, with a team-high 17 shots on net and a respectable plus-4 rating. A surefire first star for the team this week.
2) Alexei Ponikarovski - back in my second year of university we came up with a new STD that we named after No. 23 because his name was so weird. We'd tell each other that we had a "bad case of the Ponikarovski" because it was funny. Well, last week, Poni caught the infection, too. Finally, he had a great game scoring four points all at once, which helped him round out the week with 6 points in four games (1 goal + 5 assists) and a plus-6 rating (highest on the team). It shows a commitment to defense, a strong ability to move the puck around while he has possession, and the potential to break out with a big game once in a while. He should be rewarded for his big performance just as much as Hagman was last week.
3) Joey MacDonald - of course. He provided consistent and reliable relief for both Toskala and Gustavsson, and was great. He shut-out the Canadiens over two periods and was a stone wall against the best snipers on Columbus, despite giving up 3 goals. His save percentage was over 94 (awesome) and he had a GAA of a measly 1.80 (also awesome). Though he only was given credit for one win over those two games, he's been reliable enough to provide Toskala another couple of days to rest his groin before coming back into the season. A tough game against Boston, though.
Notable(s) - good: Niklas Hagman had 2 goals, 2 assists and average a point per game over the week, keeping his offense touch after a breakout week last week. Luke Schenn had a plus rating in three of the last four games, which is an indicator that he's settling his game down - plus he erases guys along the boards whenever he gets a chance. Along the boards, I like Schenn. Handling the puck of moving around in open ice, not so much - yet. Jason Blake, I've liked him in his roles the coach has used him in. No, he's not scoring like he used to, but he is forechecking well (despite his size) and adds some threat to any line he's on, whether it's with Primeau, Orr or Mayers.
Bad: Gustavsson's heart condition. Basically, this is bad. The Leafs haven't gone a week without having one of their goalies injured - and that's probably one of the major factors which has influenced their terrible start to the season. They've played remarkably well considering the instability in net. Otherwise, there's not much to be upset about with the team. They've done very well in almost all aspects of the game - a huge improvement from weeks' past.
Now, how do they sit in the standings?
Last in their division, now only 3 points behind the Canadiens, gaining 5 points on them over the week; still second last in their conference, 8 points up on Carolina and now only 3 points behind the Florida Panthers (previously 5) who are tied with the Canadiens; and still 29th in the NHL, but only 1 point behind the Anaheim Ducks. While their actual situation has remained the same (they're in last or second last) they've taken serious steps to close the gap between them and the teams ahead of them. With another strong week they could quickly be back in the middle of the pack - which is something you'd absolutely never have imagined earlier in the seaon.
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Also notable - the Leafs traded away their 13th-overall first-round draft pick from 2006, Jiri Tlusty for Philippe Paradis, who was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes 27th overall in 2009. This provides the Leafs with two first round selections from 2009, though it loses them their first round pick they've been developing for three years. I say good riddance, Tlusty hasn't done anything for the franchise except dangle his weiner on the front page of the Toronto Sun.
Burke likes Paradis because the 6-foot-1, 196-pounder is a physical player who has a decent scoring touch. Paradis is projected as a third-line winger who will be an agitator like Steve Ott of the Dallas Stars and contribute some goals.
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Buffalo 3, Toronto 0 - oohhhh!
The Leafs tried real hard, but they were up against a terrific goalie, a fast, strong, and dedicated team of skaters under Lindy Ruff, and were outmatched entirely. This wasn't anything of a surprise to see them lose. It was a close game for most of the night, but the final nail in the coffin was the third period goal.
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Toronto 3, Montreal 0 - awesome.
I liked Blake on the fourth line - even though he was 'double-shifted' a few times. It creates opportunities, though I'm sure he'd rather be on a scoring line, scoring goals than a $4 million player on the fourth line.
The Leafs capitalized on some weird bounces from some unusual offensive contributors in Colton Orr and Jeff Finger, and then held on tight to maintain the win. Montreal was dreadful, and there were no excuses for it. The Leafs will take the two points and inch closer to jumping the Canadiens in the standings, too.
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Toronto 6 - Florida 3
They were strong all night, and whenever Florida seemed to take control of the game, Toronto stole it right back. Hagman was outstanding, and led the team with an excellent performance.
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Toronto 6, Columbus 3
Jason Blake and Phil Kessel showed what America is made of by each potting two goals to take the Leafs to a 6-3 whooping of the Columbus Bluejackets, and Joey MacDonald was strong in net stopping tons of shots against. MacDonald got his first win as a Leaf this season.