Dominance is Spelled L-E-A-F-S - Leafs Shutout Jets 4-0
After watching Saturday nights Toronto Maple Leafs loss to the Winnipeg Jets I ended the year in a foul mood. It was amazing to me that the Jets were able to beat the Leafs in that game since it is obvious - at least to me - that this Leafs team is significantly better than the former Thrashers. Of course I am well aware that the Leafs are not a juggernaut themselves, but over the last year they have become a team that is at least middle of the pack. Whereas when I see the Jets with Kyle Wellwood, Nik Antropov, Tim Stapleton and Eric Fehr I can't help but think that this team will end up in the lottery and not in the playoffs. Therefore when the Leafs (albeit controversially) lost that game I gloomily sat in the corner and waited for midnight instead of celebrating a Leafs victory.
Tonight though the Leafs demonstrated just how much better they are than the boys from Manitoba. The Leafs actually were so much in control of this game that it lost its appeal a little with about ten minutes left in the third period. Toronto jumped out to a 1-0 lead exactly five minutes into the first period as Phil Kessel (who else?) converted a beautiful feed from Joffrey Lupul (who else?) to beat Jets goalie Chris Mason. The goal was Kessel's 23rd on the season and was started by a great play behind the net by Tim Connolly. Connolly has been solid since he replaced Tyler Bozak on that first line three games ago, the former Sabre has produced 1 goal and 3 assists in that period. Connolly has looked more comfortable and in sync with his wingers by the shift. Although the Leafs attacked the Jets for the bulk of the period they only managed the Kessel marker as Mason made some nice saves and when he didn't stop them the post helped out a little too.
Connolly doubled the lead in the second period as he deposited a Dion Phaneuf rebound on a delayed penalty. It was Tim's 7th goal on the year, and was a just reward considering all the hard work he's been doing of late. Once again the Leafs dominated the second period but were only able to produce the one tally. The Jets managed to apply some pressure late in the second period and for a moment it seemed like they might have gotten back into the game, but Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson was solid when he needed to be. Considering the one sided action that was going on in this game the Jets were a lucky bounce away from pulling themselves into it heading into the third.
In that period though Mikhail Grabovski put an end to the Jets hopes as he wristed a laser over Mason's shoulder to put the game out of reach just over three minutes into the period. Grabovski now has four goals and seven points in this last five games as the Belarussian seems to be catching fire just like he did last season. Clarke MacArthur scored the fourth goal of the game as he extended his point streak to seven games. MacArthur deposited the puck into an empty net after Grabovski fed him a perfect pass on the power play. The Monster did the rest on the night as he stopped all 24 shots he faced for his first shutout of the season and second of his career. Toronto also displayed some solid discipline on the night by taking only one minor penalty.
With the win the Leafs jump back into the Eastern Conference playoffs as they hold down the 7th spot, one point behind Pittsburgh for 6th and two points behind Ottawa for 5th. This was a significant victory for the blue and white as they control their own playoff destiny. Win the head to head games against the teams your fighting with and you'll qualify for the dance.
Men of the Match
Leafs: Mikhail Grabovski - The pending UFA was a factor every time he was on the ice. The puck was following him around tonight and the Jets defense had no answer for his darting speed and willingness to battle in the corners. Was unfortunate to be stopped by Mason on a breakaway in the second period.
Jets: Evander Kane - One of the league's most underrated players, Kane demonstrated how strong he was by knocking down both Luke Schenn and Dion Phaneuf as they attempted to hit him. Both Leafs blueliners bounced right off the emerging power forward. He had a great chance to score in the second period as the puck fell to him as Gustavsson lay helpless, but he lifted it over the bar. An absolute stud.
Millenism of the Night
"The best way to improve your penalty kill is to not take penalties." Of course the PK percentage will definitely go up if there are no opportunities against. I know what Millen meant, but as always he is unable to convey it properly.
Next Game: The Leafs continue their homestand as they host their old rival the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night.