The Toronto Maple Leafs won their fourth consecutive game scoring two goals in the first period against the Buffalo Sabres. The Leafs stayed out of the penalty box tonight and managed to use the power play to their advantage. There is no better way to improve on the penalty kill than by staying completely out of the box. Disciplined play goes a long way in boosting a team’s energy and flow of the game. I have been yelling this from the rafters for far too many games and tonight the team answered.
Jonas Gustavsson is 9-2-0 in his last eleven starts, giving Coach Ron Wilson a big decision to make. Who starts on Friday in Buffalo? Do they run the hot hand back out against the Sabres and keep James Reimer for Saturday night against the New York Rangers? One possibility would be giving Gustavsson back to back games on Friday and Saturday if he blanks the Sabres again. A goalie tandem that is heating up means only one thing in my mind; chase down the Boston Bruins in the division. Secondary scoring and great goaltending will bring this to fruition.
Nikolai Kulemin picked up his confidence level by nabbing two points in the first period. With a goal and an assist on both Leaf goals in the first period, swagger returned to the big left wingers skating stride. When Nikolai gets back into the habit of scoring this team will be able to take on the leading clubs in the Eastern conference. Nikolai showed his big frame could be used in a massive hit on Patrick Kaleta that sent both players flailing in the open ice. I forget sometimes how big Kulemin can play; his size can be used to his advantage in front of the net and occasionally in the big open ice with thunderous hits. Good to see this kind of energy from Nikolai, I hope to see him carry it over into the next match-up against Buffalo on Friday night.
Mike Brown had his collision course lined up all night. I am so glad to see this hard nose player back in the line up. Five hits in 19 shifts recorded for Brown is exactly what the Maple Leafs had been missing. His spark-plug play lights up the bench.
The Leafs didn’t spend the game running around playing “down” to the Sabres. The team came out with some energy and managed the two goal lead early. This to me is a clear sign of good coaching, by keeping the lines rolling, all players stay involved, which gives the team momentum to keep them in the lead.
Nazem Kadri is a maturing player who continues to impress me game in and game out. Kadri played well tonight by throwing some checks and not dangling with the puck in tight spots. I watched him dump the puck in on a chance to take it into the Sabres zone. This in my mind is the start of maturity, a player that thinks “Team” first by not attempting the impossible one on three to kill time.
The six-foot five defenseman played extremely well tonight. Franson has impressed many over the last few games and with that, Coach Ron Wilson has been giving him some extra ice time. He managed an assist tonight on the Kulemin game winner and threw some big hits along the boards. I have noticed he has been playing well with Luke Schenn the last game or so. With Schenn struggling at times this year, the solid play of Franson has been able to keep that pair looking good in the defensive zone from night to night. With about sixteen minutes of ice time a game, Franson is making the most of his opportunity. More things to come from Cody I am sure, we have seen three goals and nine assists from him this year. On pace for the 29 point total he had last year in Nashville.