Whatever the Leafs have done to find their scoring touch lately, they better bottle it.
There have been some bitter games for the Leafs against the Bruins in recent past. There were the lopsided scores in favour of Boston. The heartbreak of game seven of the 2013 playoffs will always linger. But on this night, it was the Leafs serving Boston an embarrassing loss.
On October 25th, things were looking pretty bleak for the Leafs. They performed poorly in a 4-1 loss to the Bruins at home. A players-only meeting followed, where the team reflected on what was going wrong. Things have gone nothing but right for the Leafs since then, having gone 6-1-1 since.
“Tonight I felt was one of our best starts of the year,” said Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle. “We were on the puck and we were skating, we were directing pucks at the net. Phil’s (Kessel’s) goal was a big goal early. Then we started out the second period the same way.”
The second period has been a source of strength for the Maple Leafs this season. They lead the NHL in middle-frame goals with 26, five more than second place Vancouver.
It all started with Kessel, he opened the scoring in both the first and second periods with bullet shots on Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask.
“I haven’t scored many goals on him,” Kessel said of Rask. “Tonight I was a little fortunate to get a couple past him.”
Fortunate is one way to put it. Kessel’s shot has earned higher praise with each year that has passed.
“He’s got a quick release, it’s unbelievable,” said Leo Komarov, who notched his 10th assist of the season in a 6-1 win.
“I was talking to (James) Reimer the other day and I was just asking him about what is it about Phil’s shot that makes it so hard to save,” Peter Holland added. “It’s just I guess the way the puck comes off his blade. It’s tough for the goalies to read where it’s going, whether it’s going to be low, high, right-corner, left-corner. Obviously the speed he gets it off it helps him out too.”
Holland is finding an ability to score as well, notching his third goal in as many games. His line has been getting better with every game.
For Boston, the injury toll has perhaps caught up to them without the likes of Zdeno Chara or David Krejci in the lineup. Still, it was a game to forget for Rask. Typically dominant against the Leafs, Rask was pulled after the Leafs fourth goal. It was the first time in 22 starts against Toronto (including playoffs) that he did not finish a game.
While it’s easy to look at the previous game against the Bruins as a turning point, the team still has it front of mind that they have only played 16 games this season.
“It’s a long season,” said James van Riemsdyk, whose 3 point-night extended his point streak to a career high six games. “You don’t read too much into any one individual game. We just want to keep getting better, play the way we need to play and go from there.”
“We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves” Carlyle added. “Sure we feel good about ourselves right now but who’s coming on Friday?”
As long as the Leafs keep scoring, they won’t have any issues on Friday against the Penguins. The team is lighting the lamp, having scored five or more goals in three consecutive games. The last time the Leafs scored that often was December 18-22 of 2008. They scored 5 goals in an 8-5 loss to Boston, and followed that up with 7-3 and 6-2 victories over Pittsburgh and Atlanta.
The Leafs scored three power-play goals tonight. That hasn’t been done in almost three years, with Toronto going 3-5 on the power-play in a 7-1 victory over Washington on November 19th, 2011.
First Goal, Another Win
The Maple Leafs improved to a perfect 6-0-0 this season when they score the first goal. When Phil Kessel scores a goal, the Leafs are 6-0-1.
Notorious for not firing a lot of shots towards the opposition, the Leafs improvement in puck possession has translated in more shots on goal, producing their fifth straight game of 30 shots or more.