Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars Tuesday at American Airlines Center:
James Reimer is rising to the occasion.
Toronto’s goaltender is making the most of an increased workload in the wake of an injury to Jonathan Bernier. Reimer was extremely sharp for the second straight game he faced the Stars. After turning aside 43 of 44 shots against Dallas Nov. 2 at Air Canada Centre, Reimer held his team in the game through the first 40 minutes Tuesday, stopping 27 of 28 Stars shots through the first two periods and 36 of 38 shots on the night. He’s battled and sprawled and even taken pucks off his mask to keep it out of the net, but you don’t get style points for netminding, and although Vernon Fiddler’s go-ahead goal early in the third period wasn’t particularly pretty, a failed clearing attempt by teammate Tyler Bozak didn’t do Reimer any favours, either. If he can get more support on offense, he should be in the win column more often.
Nazem Kadri and Puck Luck continue to be at odds.
Kadri had 3 shots on net Tuesday – boosting his team-leading total this season to 63 – but Toronto’s top centre was robbed by Antti Niemi in the first period and is still looking for his second goal in 15 games. Sooner or later, the 25-year-old is bound to break out.
Morgan Rielly is Toronto’s best player - and he’s only getting better.
P-A Parenteau’s game-tying goal at 12:38 of the third period was created in part by some solid puck battle victories from Bozak, but more importantly, it was Rielly’s cool-as-a-frozen-cucumber patience with the puck that led directly to Parenteau’s third marker of the year. The assist was the eighth of the season for the 21-year-old Rielly – and those eight helpers are more than any Leafs teammate other than Dion Phaneuf has points. People have been predicting big things for Rielly since he was drafted fifth overall in 2012, and it’s clear he’s well on his way not only to living up to lofty expectations, but exceeding them.
Toronto’s persistence is starting to pay off.
In recent years, the Leafs would’ve folded up shop after losing a lead in the third period – but under head coach Mike Babcock this season, there is no sign of white flag-waiving. Indeed, Toronto’s burst of offense that saw them score twice in 3:54 of the third – including Jake Gardiner’s game-winner with 3:28 remaining in regulation time – was an indication this team’s work ethic is not going to be dictated by a miscue here or there.
Discipline – and special teams – matter.
Against the high-octane Stars offense, it was important for the Buds to stay out of the penalty box – and when they did find themselves with someone sitting in there, to kill off any man advantages and continue to play strongly on the penalty kill. They were successful on both counts Tuesday, giving Dallas just one power play and preventing them from scoring. Meanwhile, Toronto scored on their only power play of the evening when Peter Holland recorded the game’s first goal with 1:22 left in the first period. The Leafs aren’t doing everything right, but they are doing more things right than their spot in the standings might suggest, and that includes their special team play.