Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 5-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks Saturday at Rogers Arena:
Absence of regulars didn’t matter to their replacements.
Playing once again without injured veterans James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Shawn Matthias, Joffrey Lupul – as well as Josh Leivo, who’d scored two goals in the two games prior to Saturday night’s tilt against the Canucks, but was hurt Thursday against Edmonton – the Leafs recalled forwards Brendan Leipsic and Jeremy Morin from the American League Saturday. But it was another former Marlie in Mark Arcobello who stepped up in their absence, scoring his first two goals as a Leaf just 17 seconds apart (and 90 seconds after Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin opened the scoring) early in the second period. The 27-year-old Arcobello bounced between four NHL teams last season, but he did everything asked of him at the AHL level this year and now has his first points of the season in his 14th game with the Buds. Head coach Mike Babcock rewards players who take advantage of opportunity, and Arcobello has done enough on this Western Canadian road trip to get more of them in the near-future.
New face Leipsic has dream NHL debut.
The 21-year-old didn’t lead the team in ice time in his first game in hockey’s best league – in fact, he logged only 9:28 Saturday – but did have a couple solid scoring chances early on. And then, at the 3:54 mark of the third frame, he batted in a puck out of the air and past veteran netminder Ryan Miller for his first NHL goal. Leipsic also got the famous rookie treatment of skating on the ice all alone in the warmup, while his amused teammates looked on in the hallway to the dressing room. Leipsic has been one of the Marlies’ best players this year (14 goals and 34 points in 47 AHL games), and it’s safe to say (a) he’ll remember this game for the rest of his life, and (b) he’ll be getting another chance to show what he can do at the NHL level in the weeks and months ahead.
Jake Gardiner once again taking steps forward.
In the three games since losing former defensive partner Dion Phaneuf to a trade to the Senators, Gardiner’s game has grown in leaps and bounds on the offensive end: he had a goal against both Calgary and Edmonton, effortlessly moved the puck deep into Vancouver’s zone and toward Miller to help set up Arcobello’s second goal of the night, and grabbed his second assist of the night on Leipsic’s goal. The 25-year-old blueliner’s confidence is clearly on an upward trajectory, and Toronto’s offence is benefitting from it.
An all-around effort leads to first win of the road trip.
The Leafs hadn’t won in Vancouver since 2003, but despite surrendering the first goal of the game Saturday, Toronto out-shot the Canucks 31-13 through the first 40 minutes of play and made life much easier for netminder James Reimer, who picked up his 11th win of the season by turning aside all but two of the 19 total shots he saw. Babcock stresses that smart, sustained effort can make up for the absence of talent, and on this night, the Leafs in the lineup proved him right.
Savour the win, but not for too long.
The win over the Canucks snapped a three-game losing streak, but the Leafs can’t admire it for very long at all, because their next game is in Chicago against the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks. When last the Buds and Hawks played – Jan. 15 at Air Canada Centre – Toronto was steamrolled 4-1 by a visiting team that got a hat trick from Patrick Kane. And although the Blackhawks have cooled down since then, it will take nothing less than a virtually mistake-proof effort from the Leafs to remain in the win column for the second consecutive game.