The Toronto Maple Leafs 5 game road trip came to an end Saturday night, and while it only produced 1 win it did give Leaf fans some reasons to cheer. Before embarking the Leafs had yet to win a game and looked terrible in all but their first game of the season. They still won't be mistaken for a playoff contender, and remain in last place, but with points in their last four games, the bandwagon is beginning to take on passengers again.
Anyone not a fan of the beloved blue and white may not understand how to see the good in a team with only 1 win in 12 games, but Leaf fans are experts in separating hope from despair. So for those non-beleafers impaired by perennial pessimism, here are some positives you may not have noticed.
Last night the leafs scored first! They hadn't done that in their previous 11 games. In their 5 games before hitting the road they hadn't mustered more than 2 goals in a game and in 3 of them had only managed 1 goal each. Needless to say their power play was almost non-existent and even worse their penalty kill made their opponents look like the 84 Oilers. In today's NHL that just can't happen ... the proof being the Leafs record before going on the road. They started the trip with both starting goalies injured. Their 3 offseason defensive pickups (Exelby, Komisarek, and Beauchemin) were tempting Leafs fans to petition Todd Gill to make a comeback. In short they were awful and looking like a team destined to finish last over-all. Considering they don't have first pick for the next 2 years things looked bad!
Much has changed since then. The Leafs have THE BEST power play in the league! If you don't believe me look it up. The penalty kill still ranks at the bottom of the league, but has been crawling back steadily and is no longer an automatic goal. Their 30 goals scored ties them at 22nd best, not worst in the league. As of last night both starting goalies are healthy and Jonas Gustavsson is showing why Brian Burke chased him all spring.
If this weren't enough, Tomas Kaberle is on FIRE! After last nights 4 point effort (he was in on all 4 Leaf goals), he now sits tied for 6th amongst all NHL players. Not defensemen ... players. His 17 points puts him ahead of Sydney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Danny Heatley. His 15 assists is BEST in the NHL. When was the last time we could say best and Toronto Maple Leafs in the same sentence? Did I mention he's tied the game in the final minute 2 games in a row. Even if you still think he should be traded this has to make you happy.
Kaberle's not the only won looking good these days. Niklas Hagman has a hat-trick and six goals so far. Lee Stempniak is playing his best hockey since being obtained from St. Louis. His shot from the point on the power play has been a welcome, if not startling surprise. An honorable mention should go the Mikhail Grabovski for his contribution to the four game Leaf point streak as well. If he continues to play this way he may become a fixture on a line with newcomer Phil Kessel.
Tuesday night the Leafs come home to play the Tampa Bay Lightning. They will also be treated to Phil Kessel's much anticipated first game as a Leaf. That's probably the best news so far. This speedy winger and power play specialist enters the line-up of a team with the best power-play, best offensive defenseman, possibly the best rookie goaltender, and a 4 game regulation-time unbeaten streak. That might be more flattering than they deserve but why should Burke and Wilson get to be the Spin-Doctors all the time. Now if we could figure out how to score in overtime or in a shoot-out we might just be allowed to talk playoffs again.