The Maple Leafs kicked off their week Monday with their first home win of the season – a 4-1 victory over the Dallas Stars at Air Canada Centre – thanks in part to a pair of goals from left winger Joffrey Lupul
. And, if Toronto can continue receiving regular production from veterans such as Lupul, they’re going to fare better than they did in a tough opening stretch of the year.
The Stars came into the game as one of the league’s hottest teams and the top club in the Western Conference standings – and despite outshooting the Leafs 44-26 on the night and fighting to a 1-1 tie after the first period, Dallas was beaten regularly by Toronto in puck battles and the Buds made them work for their ice all night.
Lupul, who has now moved into the lead in Leafs scoring with five goals in 11 games, gave the Leafs all the offence they’d need with two second-period markers 12 minutes apart that put the home team up 3-1 and infused them with a confidence that has, at times, been lacking.
“Everything was in order tonight,” Lupul said before deflecting praise to his teammates. “We gave up a lot of shots, but I thought our D did a good job of keeping guys to the outside and not allowing those second and third shots, and (goalie James Reimer) did a good job at stopping the ones from the outside.”
After he was limited by injury to 55 games and 10 goals for Toronto last season, the 32-year-old Lupul is now halfway toward matching that goal total this year and is once again showing what he can do if the injury bug doesn’t bite. He’s been valued in the organization for his professionalism and on a team that is likely to see more change as the season unfolds, he provides a stability that Toronto’s young players can look to and emulate. And he knows his role is somewhat different on this Leafs team.
“I’m playing on a line with (Daniel) Winnik and (Nick) Spaling, we’re going to play quite a bit, but it’s going to be a lot more defensive zone starts and playing against top lines,” Lupul said. “It changes the way you play a little bit, but I still want to create offense, I think that’s still my role on the line, to be a threat in the offensive zone and hold onto the puck down low and still get my cracks on the first power play.”
Before the game, defenseman Morgan Rielly spoke of Toronto not getting a lot of fortunate bounces in their first 10 contests, but the puck was better to them Monday. In addition, goalie James Reimer stopped all but one of the 44 shots he faced for his second win of the campaign and his 76th career victory in a Leafs uniform.
That said, should Lupul get back to being a 20-goal-scorer or better – as he has twice for Toronto since arriving from Anaheim in a 2011 trade – the calming effect on the rest of the roster will be notable. Playing the entire game against Dallas’ top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Patrick Sharp, Lupul’s line focused on limiting their opportunities, and that led to a productive night at both ends of the ice.
To a man, his teammates and coaches were pleased to see better results for him.
“It’s important your good players play good,” said head coach Mike Babcock. “Lupes has been the best – I don’t know why – when he plays with (Spaling and Winnik). He seems to score better when he’s playing with a cycle group than he is a rush group. That’s good for us.”
“He’s playing great,” Rielly said of Lupul. “He’s been a good player in this league for a long time, and he knows how to play the game. He’s had a good off-season, trained hard, and it’s showing. He’s a big leader on this team for us.”