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Ulmer: Talking About The Breaks

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Of these things are a four game winning streak made of.

A Chad Kilger shot ricochets off the cheekbone of Nashville defenceman Greg Zanon and positions itself perfectly on the stick of Wade Belak who breaks a 143-game scoreless drought with impunity.

In that same 4-2 win over the Thrashers, Nik Antropov  collects a shoot-in that hit a stick and found  him in the slot for an easy goal.

Matt Stajan backhands a shot at the net, the puck hits a stick and floats, belt high, the better for Stajan and the club into the net. The Leafs are outshot 35-15. It matters not a lick.

Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers fine young goalie, displays sieve-like symptoms as the Leafs pump four goals by him, Thursday night. He stops six of 10 shots. Not a good percentage. The Leafs win 4-2 despite being outshot 25-16.

This is why hockey players talk about ‘the breaks.’

Are the Maple Leafs being gifted with some good bounces? Yes, and its about time. Two or three overtime losses and a shot into your own net can be written off to chance. Six is just crappy luck.

Bounces come and go, of course, but they more often visit teams with an identity.

The Leafs have an identity. They assumed it five games ago, when they lost 4-3 in overtime to the Montreal Canadiens.

“As long as we defend the way we did tonight,” Toskala said, “we’ll win a lot of games.”

Nobody believed him then. Upon further review, he may have a point.

The Leafs inability to defend for much of the season constituted something of a mystery. They have two offensively-oriented  defencemen in Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle and four more offensively conscientious ones.

The club has a long line of defensive forwards, Boyd Deveraux, Chad Kilger, Matt Stajan, Alex Steen. Even offensive players, and Kyle Wellwood is a good example here, display an aptitude for defensive play.

The Leafs have put the brakes on opposing scoring chances. They have given up seven goals in their four-game winning streak.

Toskala has been very good  but how long this can keep going is anyone’s guess. They will lose 1-0 or 2-1 when a puck takes an audacious bounce and lands at the stick of an opponent.

But, for the first time this season, the Leafs have devised a strategy to counter both the offensively adventurous and the teams that make passing through the neutral zone, as Pat Burns used to say, like trying to crawl through barbed wire with a wool jacket.

From teams like this, the breaks never wander too far.
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