Maple Leafs 3, Buffalo Sabres 1
I will start tonight with the Maple Leafs victory over the Buffalo Sabres at Air Canada Centre while it's most fresh in my mind...
I had expected for the Sabres to come out with a little more emotion after their long time bench boss was relieved of his duties the night before. Although they got the first goal of the game, Ryan Miller and company struggled to maintain any such momentum.
After Miller was called for a hold...(dear God when is the last time a goaltender was called for holding?) everything seemed to unravel for the struggling Sabres.
Dion Phaneuf, who I rudely criticized after a bad loss several weeks ago has stepped up in a big way for this young Toronto club. Phaneuf blasted in a one-timer past Miller to even the score on a power play off a nice pass from Phil Kessel.
Buffalo's Steve Ott appeared to score on a masterful tap-in out of midair, but the goal was waved off as Kevin Porter was called for goaltender interference just seven minutes into the 2nd.
Personally, I thought the Leafs caught a break on that call. It seemed to me like a good hockey play. Porter was doing his job in front of the net, and after the puck got loose, he tried to get to the puck as Ott did. The Toronto defenseman (sorry cannot recall who) had bad positioning on Porter and Ott as well, and seemed to shove Porter into Scrivens who also was out of position after the puck deflected to Ott. Still, it was a break that the Leafs took advantage of and scored the go-ahead goal a few minutes later.
Just remember the disallowed goal against the Boston, after a Bruins defenseman flattened his own goalie on the play. I guess the Leafs were destined for a make up call...
After the disallowed goal, the Leafs took over the game. Still, it seemed as if the Sabres would escape the period with a tie game heading to the third, but Kessel fed James van Riemsdyk for an easy tip-in past Miller on a quick two-on-one rush the other way. The goal came at as a great reward after Toronto spent most of the period in the Buffalo zone.
van Riemsdyk probably had his most frustrating game as a Maple Leaf on Tuesday in Tampa, giving the puck away that led to the first Lightning goal, and then playing lacksidaisical the rest of the evening.
On Thursday, he stepped up in a big way, as did the rest of the Toronto big guns.
Ben Scrivens settled back into his number one role for the moment, making 31 saves and seemed very much in control as he had been leading up to Tuesdays stinker.
I am impressed with the way this team is playing. They are physical, they can skate, they can make plays and they can play defense (finally!). Tonight in the third period, when the Sabres had chances to shoot on Scrivens, the Leafs did a fantastic job getting sticks in front of shots and deflected many potentially dangerous pucks away from Scrivens.
At a time they may have looked a bit lethargic at the beginning of the third as Buffalo once held a 7 to 1 shot on goal advantage. But the line with Leo Komarov and Jay McClement dominated a shift with about eight minutes to go, cycling the puck around Miller and the cage. Nazem Kadri then came on and drew a penalty as he caught the Sabres flat footed in their own zone.
Jochen Hecht errantly flipped a puck over the boards and handed Toronto a five on three power play chance to put the game away.
Miller's spectacular glove save on van Riemsdyk after some nifty Leaf passing kept the Sabres alive for the moment, but JVR got another chance off a great feed from Cody Franson seconds later and this time Miller was not equal to the task.
For those of you who still think the Leafs are weak, think again. This team is winning games convincingly and are also shutting their opposition down. In the past, we Toronto faithful used to get excited for a huge 5-4 overtime win, or a 4-3 victory after being down 2-0 early.
The way the team is winning games and finishing off teams is what is most encouraging. Now, Toronto has been in control, and are definitely headed to a playoff berth if they can keep up its recent success.
James Reimer has been working out on the side and is targeting a return date perhaps by the Philadelphia game on the 25th. Joffrey Lupul is also skating hard and could also be back as soon as next week. If Toronto can get those guys back soon, including Matt Frattin then things could really start to come together nicely.
But credit the big guns tonight on getting the job done after a tough loss in Tampa Bay the other night.
Kings 3 @ Edmonton Oilers 1...Calgary Flames 1
Thank God that Darryl Sutter finally to his senses and has starting giving Jonathan Bernier some playing time (and Jonathan Quick some time to rest).
So the Kings were able to win back to back games against two of the Western Conferences bottom feeders...yea, that was what they were supposed to do, right? The bottom line is that they needed these wins, and they were able to get the job done with little doubt.
The last two evenings could not have been scripted any better. Jonathan Quick stands on his head in the opening twenty minutes to keep LA in the game. Then Edmonton, as usual, finds a way to waste a decent effort by allowing the decisive goal with 49 seconds left.
Still, Trevor Lewis made a good decision to throw it on net just as Jeff Carter was heading towards the crease. Carter's deflection goal gave the Kings a must needed win sending the team off to Calgary where I thought the defending champs played its best game of this short season. The men in black are starting to get their legs back underneath them and are starting to take it to their opposition.
It was Lewis again who factored on the biggest play of the night. Lewis collected a rebound and backed off a bit giving himself enough time and space to pick his spot and shoot. He then fired a shoot top left corner past Flames emergency backstop Joey MacDonald to regain the lead at 2-1.
The decisive goal came almost immediately after the Kings' only breakdown of the night with Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin on the ice. T.J. Brodie skated right down broadway untouched as easily wristed the puck past Bernier to get the Flames on the board.
Yea, a couple of wins against non-playoff contenders, but still the Kings needed these points after failing to show up in Chicago on time Sunday. They controlled both games from beginning to end pretty much and will return to Staples Center on Saturday against another bottom feeder, the Colorado Avalanche.
Now is the time for the Kings to shift into high gear as the team will play thirteen of its next sixteen contests on home ice. After these two impressive wins on the road in Alberta, I still think the Kings will be alright heading into March.
The play of Keaton Ellerby has helped solidify the blue line, and Davis Drewiske has also filled in very nicely. Jake Muzzin, who was clearly overmatched in Chicago on Sunday also rebounded the last two nights, granted it was Calgary and Edmonton. Still, Mr. Lombardi should be actively seeking another blue liner, and I am sure he is.
We should know by March 19, after the Kings' back to back home stand against the Phoenix Coyotes, if the team is heading back to the playoffs with a chance to defend their title. And if so, then who is saying that they cannot repeat? Yea, Chicago is red hot, but they cannot keep this up forever. After Chicago, who should the Kings really fear that is the biggest threat to their title...Boston? Pittsburgh? NY Rangers? Montreal? Toronto? ... Vancouver? LOL. If they are good enough to get past Chicago and/or Vancouver then who cares.
The Kings need to get there first. Will the defending champs be able to take advantage of its home ice over the next three weeks? If not, then nobody will have to worry about the title defense...
I will be surpised if they don't...score, score, SCORE!
Time to defend Staples...