“The Lines They are a Changing” Toronto Maple Leafs tame the Minnesota Wild

Mike Smith January 19, 2012 6
Mike Cassese/Reuters

The Game

Phil Kessel scored his 25th goal of the year and Joffrey Lupul added three assists as the Toronto Maple Leafs broke a three-game losing streak with a 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild at the ACC in Toronto.

Nazem Kadri, Joey Crab and Mikhail Grabovski all put the puck behind Niklas Backstrom tonight in a game where the Leafs looked to have their legs early.

Jonas Gustavsson made 20 saves tonight and let in a soft goal with a few minutes left in the game to lose his shutout bid.  I fully expect to see Gustavsson in-goal against Montreal on Saturday night.  Check your local Twitter and Facebook feed for all the “Monster” vs “Reimer” chatter you can handle.  The debate won’t end until a number one goalie emerges from between the two.

The Bench

The talk before the game was focused on one topic that I like to call “Line Gate”.  The breaking up of Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul had Blogs, Newspapers, Twitter and Facebook discussions lighting up with questions and speculation of what might occur post break-up.  All this speculation and concern got shut down early in the game tonight when Kadri scored a goal assisted by Lupul.

For the record this is how the two got split up:

  • Kessel played with Tyler Bozak and Matthew Lombardi
  • Lupul joined Tim Connolly and Nazem Kadri.

“Kessardi” and “Lupudri” are the comical names that got bounced around the twitter and various blog chats throughout the game.  The “Line Gate” was a nice distraction from the constant monitoring of Leafs Nation trade winds that seem to pick up every day.

Tonight Nazem Kadri returned to the Leafs line up and with that he got himself a new partner on the far wing.  It was Kadri and Lupul that hooked up for the first Leaf goal and Kadri really buried a beauty goal right on the doorstop of Minnesota Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom.  I am convinced and not because I have become a huge fan of Kadri this year, but due to his strong play and battling for the puck; he has proved he is ready to stay with the team.  I can see that Kadri has outgrown the need to be a Marlie and put on the AHL uniform in order to improve his skill level.  Three blocked shots from the Leaf tonight and a goal; he is proving once again that patience by the organization is key to nurturing his skill-type.

With 22 points down in the AHL, Kadri made every effort to improve and wait for his call up.  I feel that the 22 games he played in the AHL allowed Kadri time to get his work ethic in line for NHL competitiveness.

Kadri and Grabovski

My argument for Mikhail Grabovski and Nazem Kadri to stay with the Leafs through the trade deadline comes down to secondary scoring.  This Leaf team is in dire need of scoring outside the first two lines.  Coach Ron Wilson tonight looked like a genius for putting these lines together that both produced goals.  Here is where the stats for Grabovski don’t lie; 58 points last year as a Leaf.  He looks to be on pace for just about the same again this year.  I think that’s fair game from a player like Grabovski and when you look at his point production this year, it could go up and we might even see ten or more points above 58 for the year.  Good stock I would say!

Kadri falls into the same mold when it comes to the type of player Grabovski is at his peak.  With talent, speed and good stick handling with a nose for nice goals in close or ripped from the slot, both these players can dangle and snipe. With this in mind, imagine a year from now when Kadri has the NHL figured out and has improved his skill level and added experience and he is a 46 – 50 point a year player.  My expectations and hopes for Kadri don’t seem immense; at the same time I think they are realistic.  These two players should be sticking around in a Leaf uniform for a few more productive years in my opinion.

3 Stars

Joffrey Lupul

Phil Kessel

Jonas Gustavsson