Leafs can’t seal the deal, a Divisional Weekend, Phil Kessel, and more…
The Leafs looked really good on Wednesday night, in the first two periods especially. They put on a ton of pressure and were able to keep the puck in the Stars’ zone for most of the night. It looked like it was going to be a win for the Leafs after allowing only two shots on goal in the first period. But once again, for the tenth time this season, the Leafs gave up the first goal of the game, and statistics show that the team that scores first usually wins. Luckily an unlikely hero emerged in Kulemin (who had a two-goal game) who tied the game almost immediately.
After playing cat-and-mouse for two goals, the Leafs were finally able to grab the lead in the third period and it looked like they were going to take the much deserved win. Unfortunately, in déjà vu fashion in a game that was representative of the Leafs’ opener against the Habs, they gave up the tying goal with under three minutes left in the third period and to none other than Ribeiro, who would sting the Leafs twice on this night, once in an unsportsmanlike fashion, which I will not get into. Eventually Neal scored the game winner in overtime and the Leafs were stiffed with one point.
This game was really a testament to the Leafs’ lack of scoring. Yes they scored three goals, but with the amount of pressure they had put on throughout this game, there should have been a lot more. It’s not like Turco shut the door either, the 36 shots on goal by the Leafs do not tell the story. The Leafs do not generate a lot of scoring chances at all. They put a lot of shots on goal but most of them are harmless. Without scoring, the Leafs are going to find themselves in a lot of games like this one, where they outwork and outplay their opponent, but in the end still come up short.
This is a perfect segue into the next topic, which is Phil Kessel. Ron Wilson suggested yesterday that Phil Kessel will return to the lineup in a week’s time. It looks like Brian Burke’s clock will now officially begin, with his complete team hitting the ice together for the first time. It seems a little early, but reports indicated that Kessel would be ready by mid-November, so it looks like he will be ready about a week or so earlier that previously predicted. If the Leafs can play like they have against Dallas, Anaheim and Vancouver, then the Kessel dividend should begin to payoff immediately.
Make no mistake, Kessel can score, yes he had a much better play maker in Savard back in Boston, but people should be reminded that Kessel was a 5th overall pick back in 2006 for a reason. And those people should also be reminded that the players that were drafted above Kessel were as follows: Erik Johnson, Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews, and Nicklas Backstrom. One of those players is already a captain, one of them has a Stanley Cup, and one of them already has an 88 point season. So it is safe to say that Kessel would have gone higher in an average draft. He scored 36 goals last season and 60 points in 70 games played. He was on pace for 42 goals and 70 points.
If he joins the team next week as predicted he will have the opportunity to play in as many, maybe a couple less games than he did last season. He will provide the scoring touch that the Leafs lack. If the Leafs can get the goaltending from Gustavsson, the scoring from Kessel and the pressure from the rest of the team that we’ve seen these last few games, we will see a much improved team compared to what we saw at the beginning of this season.
But before Kessel arrives next week, the Leafs have a very important weekend ahead of them beginning this evening, with a home game in Buffalo. To the surprise of many, nine games into their season, the Sabres find themselves atop the Northeast division. A lot of it has to do with the great play of Ryan Miller. If Miller is at his best tonight, it will be almost impossible for the Leafs to beat the Sabres. Reason being that the Leafs who have struggled to score goals will be playing the team with by far the fewest goal against this season. But nonetheless, the Leafs need to do whatever they can to come up with a big win this evening.
As if tonight’s game wasn’t big enough, the Leafs will roll into Montreal tomorrow night for the final game of this road trip. The Habs will be no easy task either, but as we all know by now, when it comes to the Leafs playing the Habs, statistics go out the window. It’s hard to predict the outcome because these teams play each other with a lot more intensity. There’s one player you know for sure will bring the intensity tomorrow night, and that’s Mike Komisarek, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Hopefully the Leafs will continue to play disciplined, at least compared to the early part of this season.
3 points this weekend will be a successful one for the Leafs.
It should also be noted that Viktor Stalberg has been sent down to the Marlies and taking his place will be Jiri Tlusty. Stalberg had an outstanding preseason, but his play did not translate into the regular season, especially after being crushed by Volechenkov in the Leafs' 1st game against the Sens. He will rejoin his "frat" linemates, Bozak and Hanson with the Marlies. Tlusty on the other hand is a bit of the opposite. Tlusty dominated at the AHL level last season, but really disappointed at training camp and in the preseason. He will get another chance this weekend. Something tells me that this time around he will not disappoint.
Enjoy the weekend hockey fans!