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Revived top line sparks Maple Leafs' first victory

by Corey Masisak

NEW YORK -- Before his team's game Sunday at Madison Square Garden, Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle intimated that his top line needed to do a couple of things to be more effective after he split them up the night before.

One problem for James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel was a lack of opportunities, caused in part by "being one and done," which is hockey speak for not creating second chances and extending shifts in the offensive zone. Another was the trio's work on the power play.

Reunited against the New York Rangers, Toronto's top trio combined for three goals and seven points and sparked the Maple Leafs to a 6-3 victory.

"I thought we were good on the power play," van Riemsdyk said. "I still think we have some work to do, offensive zone play-wise, that sort of thing. I definitely think it was a step in the right direction."

New York dominated the game early, but Toronto drew three penalties in the opening 25 minutes and two power-play goals help the Maple Leafs settle in. Kessel and Bozak set up the first goal, with Bozak feathering a pass to defenseman Cody Franson at the right point.

Kessel was the recipient of a fortunate bounce for the second goal. Dion Phaneuf's shot ricocheted off a New York penalty-killer and came right to Kessel's stick. He didn't miss, rifling a quick shot off the near post and in to give the Maple Leafs a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

It was Kessel's first goal of the season -- and after a couple of so-so games, it was one of eight shot attempts in an effort that looked more like what he's capable of on a given night.

"I thought they had more opportunities with the puck," Carlyle said of his top trio. "I thought our will, specifically early in the hockey game to play a more simplified game. We put the puck in. We didn't have many turnovers in the first 10 minutes. We drew some penalties. All of those things went in our favor."

Not only did the Maple Leafs lose their first two games of the season; the more troubling trend was the lack of impact from the top line. Kessel had one great chance against the Montreal Canadiens on opening night, but otherwise there wasn't much in the way of offense from the line.

The Maple Leafs had 41 percent of the shot attempts when Kessel was on the ice against the Canadiens, and that figure was slightly worse for his two linemates. Pittsburgh dominated them even more on Saturday, and Carlyle broke them up in the third period.

The overall possession numbers didn't look great against the Rangers either, but much of New York's damage came after Toronto had blown the game open. When the game was still in doubt, the top trio helped end it. Van Riemsdyk scored a shorthanded breakaway goal, and Bozak scored through a screen after a feed from Kessel.

When asked what the difference for his top players was Sunday, Carlyle responded with a hearty chuckle, "They scored." After two losses to the start the season, this was a chance for the Maple Leafs to enjoy a light moment.

"It's a funny game," van Riemsdyk said. "Sometimes the puck bounces a little bit differently. Especially on the power play, you capitalize on your chances and it looks like you had a really good night. Sometimes you think you had a ton of chances and you can't bury it. It is a funny game sometimes.

"Obviously we are going to need contributions from all four lines if we're going to be a successful team and obviously we weren't pulling our weight the first two games. This is a good stepping stone."

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