So here we are two weeks removed from the 5-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes the Leafs have won 5 of 6 and currently sit in a four way tie for 6th in the conference. Not bad when every Leaf fan wanted the team dismantled from top to bottom and it looked as though the team had finally reached rock bottom. Now let me just say that yes I was one of those that felt that way and maybe it was a little premature but at the same time even though yes it’s a four way tie for 6th but there are only 3 of those teams that can qualify for the playoffs so nothing has been won yet. I am a Leaf fan I have always have been and always will be but winning 5 of 6 in an 82 game season does not qualify you for the playoffs especially seeing how this current streak has the Leafs only one game over .500.
The new found success has come by virtue of fewer goals against….a lot fewer! During the streak the Leafs have not given up more then 2 goals in any of the games, pretty good seeing how there was a point where the Leafs had given up more then any team in the NHL. The turn around has occurred due to a new and refreshing commitment to defense and Vesa Toskala finally playing like the goalie Ferguson thought he was going to be when he was aquired from the Sharks before the draft. For the Leafs to continue the success they have recently experienced, both of the above must continue. The question is can this happen? The Leafs up to this point as mentioned have had a very difficult time with there defensive game so it will be interesting to see if they can keep up the great play. It’s tough to win games when you are allowing the opposition 40 plus shots on your goalie every night, especially when a considerable amount of those shots are quality opportunities. That brings me to the goaltending. There is no doubt that Toskala had solid career numbers prior to coming to Toronto but those numbers came in a back up role. Toskala has never been a legitiment number one goalie, never playing more then 38 games in a season. It will be interesting to see if Toskala will be able to sustain the quality of play he has shown over the past 2 weeks seeing how it would seem he has officially become the number one guy. You would have to think that if for whatever reason he can’t the Leafs might as well wave the white flag now as it’s been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Andrew Raycroft will not get this team to the playoffs.
With the goaltending and Defense out of the way the next question is the offence. The Leafs have been able to for the most part sustain a solid offensive punch while playing this new found defense first style game. They have averaged scorning just under 4 goals a game while only giving up just under 2. When you have this kind of ratio you are going to win a lot of games as we have seen over the past couple weeks and to keep it up you have to get scoring from other sources then just the first line. In the past couple weeks the likes of Matt Stajan, Alex Steen and Jason Blake have found a scoring touch even Wade Belak scored for the first time in four years, and get this Hal Gill is on a four game point streak. Other then Blake none of the above have been known to be top goal scoring players but it’s the kind of production that will have to continue if the Leafs are going to have any chance of playing in the mid April classic. It’s entirely possible that Stajan and Steen have in fact broken out and found that potential that we have all been waiting for but if they haven’t and this is just some short hot streak look out it’s going to be a long season.
Last but not least we have the special teams. Coming into the game tonight against Tampa the Leafs were 29th out of 30 teams on the power play and 24th in penalty killing. The Leafs are the 7th most penalized team in the league so when you are killing less then 80% of your penalties that equals a lot of goals against which means the new defensive style the Leafs are showing us and succeeding at won’t mean anything. The Power play has been even worse, the Leafs are only converting on 13% of there power play opportunities which is not even close to enough if you are spending your 5 on 5 time playing defense. If tonight is forshadowing for the rest of the year a 5-5 penalty kill and a 2-3 power play, might indicate that things might be on the right track. If this too is an illusion there will be trouble the rest of the way.
As much as I would like to believe that this is some sort of turning point for the Leafs and this is just the beginning of run that will not only get the Leafs into the playoffs but get them a solid playoff spot I will once again remind you that a stretch of 6 games is a very small stretch of an 82 game season. The Leafs will have to make sure this new found success on defense, offense and special teams continue through April and into the playoffs if there is going to be any kind of run at all. With that being said Leaf fans hold on tight it’s going to be an interesting ride!