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Big Stretch Ahead For Leafs

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
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Well, we’ll find out about the Leafs soon enough.

It’s silly to suggest the club is already all but out of the playoff race, even with just one win in 13 games. But it’s entirely realistic to say things have to change soon.

After the Leafs deal with the only team below them in the standings with a game in Carolina tonight, they tussle with Western Conference teams beginning with Detroit on Saturday and then Minnesota on Tuesday, in Chicago on Friday and then Calgary on Saturday.

While desperate for wins, the Leafs need to pick their spots. Two points is always good. Two points against a conference rival is bang for the buck.

At mid-month, things get particularly serious for the Leafs. They play eight consecutive games against Eastern Conference teams. Nine of the club’s first 13 games came against Eastern Conference teams and I think we all know how that turned out. Now they have a chance to make some of that back.

The Leafs are eight points out of the final post-season position, a slot taken up for today at least by the Philadelphia Flyers.

Statistically, things are righting themselves a little. Tomas Kaberle remains the game’s highest-scoring defenceman and it seems like eons since a Leaf sat atop an individual category.

Goalie Jonas Gustavsson’s steady improvement has been dramatized by the drop in his goals against average to under 3.00 at 2.98 while his save percentage has bubbled over .900 (.901) for the first time.

The Leafs power play is the third most effective in the league by percentage but their penalty killing is ranked last. Not coincidentally, so is the goals against.

Clearly, the Leafs are addressing their items from the back out. Gustavsson will be handed the keys until he bombs. I am guessing Toskala will be left on the bench to ponder his tendency to give up one poor goal a game.

The addition of Phil Kessel produced a 10-shot barrage Tuesday against Tampa but shots do not equate to goals. The Leafs are fourth in shots in the NHL but 25th in goals per game. So much for the 'throw at the net' philosophy.

There just aren’t that many hot goalies in the world so if the club is to thrive and pull themselves back in the race this season, they are going to need something from Jason Blake (one goal),  John Mitchell and Rickard Wallin (shut out this season) and two-goal man Nikolai Kulemin.

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