Looking To Keep Flying
Wednesday, 12.15.2010 / 4:44 PM ET / Mike Ulmer's Blog
By Mike Ulmer - Mapleleafs.com commentator
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So this is what Brian Burke has been talking about.
Good goaltending, a helpful defence, a big performance from the captain of the blue line.
Tuesday’s 4-1 Maple Leafs win over the Oilers clears the runway for Thursday’s date in Calgary against a poor Flames team. The game will be billed as a return to Calgary for Dion Phaneuf. Only in a season bereft of winning is the return of a player who never asked to be traded a marquee event.
The win over the Oilers was like a view from a subway in which the blur of the landscape suddenly slows into a slow pan.
Everything came into focus. Over here, Mikhail Grabovski scoring his fourth goal in five games. Considered an afterthought earlier in the year, Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur have exceeded expectations even while Tyler Bozak and at times Phil Kessel have struggled.
Over there, smallish pieces, Tim Brent and Carl Gunnarsson come to mind, were firing perfectly.
For the second game in a row, Tomas Kaberle skated like he had another gear. Luke Schenn rocked Taylor Hall, Kessel’s magnificent hands showed themselves as he converted a tough pass from Kristopher Versteeg. Versteeg scored and while Hall earned two breakaways, both were routinely turned aside by Jean Sebastien Giguere.
Wins over Montreal and then Edmonton put some distance between the club and a dreadful streak of one win in eight. The Leafs were outscored 31-14 during that streak.
With wins over Washington, the Canadiens and the Oilers, the Leafs have chiseled their game into something that may or may turn out beautifully. Mike Komisarek’s hand injury should be healed enough to allow him back in the lineup although his poor play in the two games leading up to the game in which he was injured, might give coach Ron Wilson pause.
Traditionally, a win means no changes in the lineup for returning players so the Leafs likely won’t have to deal with Komisarek’s fragile play right now.
In fact, re-inserting a new face into the lineup is the last thing Wilson should be worrying about.
The game against the Flames features a pair of former Leafs, of course. Niklas Hagman has seven goals but only over the last 12 games. Matt Stajan has been scratched two nights running and has only one goal in 25 games. For his part, Phaneuf scored his first goal this season on Tuesday night and the game against Edmonton was by far his best performance.
The three-point game is a great theory but when you consider you can win and still not gain ground on anyone close to you in the standings, winning in the West is vitally important. After Vancouver on Saturday, the Leafs schedule gets a little softer with Atlanta, New Jersey, Carolina, Columbus and Ottawa.
Forget their hot start, the Leafs never looked better than they did in Edmonton. For one night, every element of the blueprint fit perfectly. Built to stomach a steady diet of failure, the Leafs will now have to prove they can keep flying.