Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday at Air Canada Centre:
Leivo continues his hot streak with the puck.
There’s all sorts of opportunities for Leafs players ahead in the remaining weeks of the season, and on a winning night over a Hurricanes team pushing for a playoff berth, Toronto winger Josh Leivo stood out as someone taking advantage of his chances at the NHL level. The 22-year-old – who was playing just his second game since returning from an injury he suffered Feb. 11 against Edmonton – scored the game-winner against the visitors, his fourth goal of the year, and his fourth in four consecutive games. Leivo was an impact player at the AHL level, and, though it’s still in the early going for him, his confidence has to be at a high at the moment.
Parenteau also continues to contribute on offence.
He was the man behind the sweet setup pass on Leivo's goal early in the second period, but an assist wasn’t the only way Parenteau chipped in on the scoresheet Thursday. The veteran winger also scored his 16th goal of the year late in the third period for the evening’s final goal, and now has 32 points on the season.
You can make a good argument no Leafs player has been more positively influenced by coach Mike Babcock than Parenteau, who now is three goals shy of reaching the 100-goal plateau in his NHL career, and, more importantly, proving Leafs management was right in offering him a prominent role in the team’s offence. He’s done all that’s been asked of him, and he’s been as accountable to the media as any of his teammates. Those are elements of leadership that have endeared him to the organization, and the feeling is mutual.
Toronto’s first periods are getting stronger.
There was a stretch of the season in which the Leafs had serious troubles getting off to a strong start to games. But as Babcock recently said, that’s for the most part been changing in the past couple weeks, and Toronto came out of the gate looking robust in the first period against the Canes, outshooting them 15-6 in the opening frame.
They were rewarded for it when Brad Boyes opened the scoring on the power play midway through the first for his seventh goal of the year, and although (a) former Leaf John-Michael Liles tied the game six minutes later; and (b) Carolina outshot them 25-14 in the final 40 minutes, the Buds capitalized more often than not and got a great game from goalie Jonathan Bernier, who stopped 30 of 31 shots. But giving Bernier a lighter workload in the opening period and taking a lead early in the second gave the veteran netminder some breathing room to settle in.
Leafs penalty-killers were busy, but efficient.
Toronto was 1-for-4 on the power play Thursday, but the Leafs’ penalty-killers were perfect, preventing the Hurricanes from scoring on any of their four man advantages. Part of the credit for that goes to young blueliners Martin Marincin and Morgan Rielly, who played 5:29 and 4:41 on the penalty kill respectively, the most of any Toronto player.
Rielly played a team-best 28:48, and Marincin clocked in second on the night at 25:13, and while there have been games Marincin has struggled mightily this year, his response to minutes being put up for grabs after the departures of Dion Phaneuf and Roman Polak has been encouraging.
Newer Buds blueliners being eased in by Babcock.
Viktor Loov and Stuart Percy played a combined 23:15 against the Canes, but the two defensemen – who’ve spent the grand majority of the season with the Marlies and are in the infancy of their NHL careers – weren’t about to be thrown over the boards for 20 minutes a game by Babcock. He preferred to rely more on Marincin and Rielly, and allowed Percy and Loov to slowly acclimate to the quicker, more technically disciplined level of the sport.
Percy played 14:04 – nearly the same amount of time he got Tuesday against Nashville, when he logged exactly 14 minutes – in the 22-year-old’s second NHL game of the season and only the 11th NHL game of his career. And although Loov played only 9:11 Thursday, the 23-year-old recorded his second assist in his fourth career NHL game. Loov and Percy have become good friends during their time with the Marlies, and if they play sensible and economical games for Babcock, they’ll likely stick with the Leafs the rest of the year and see their minute totals improve.