OK, Leafs’ fans relax.
Breathe. Deeply in. Deeply out.
Did you see three wins coming off the top? Me neither. Did you see Clarke MacArthur with four goals in three games? Me neither. Did you see the Leafs outskating and outworking the opposition three games in a row? So did I. And that’s the key so far for Ron Wilson’s bunch.
That and quite simply – character.
The Leafs have won three games in three different ways. They outskated Montreal. They completely dominated Ottawa. And they outworked Pittsburgh early, got a few breaks and pulled out a character win. They sent the Penguins a message early in the first period, when Luke Schenn took four minutes for a high stick. Mike Brown, Mike Zigomanis and Kris Versteeg worked their tails off during those four minutes.
Sid and his Kids didn’t get a single shot on goal. The Leafs had three two-on-ones during that PK, and Carl Gunnarsson made a key shot block. It’s like the Blue and White bunch stood up and announced, “Hey, Pittsburgh, we’re here to work.”
Pens didn’t get a shot until almost twelve minutes into the game. Leafs skated them into the ground early. Luke Schenn walks away after Eric Tangradi elbows him in the face. Character. The Leafs worked so hard, netminder Jonas Gustavsson (making his season début) didn’t have to make a big save until the game was half over.
What really impressed about the Leafs tonight is that RW Phil Kessel and C Tyler Bozak were virtually invisible…and the Leafs won on the road. Character. Now, that’s not going to work 40 more times this year. But, if all four lines grind, pound and skate, it will be impossible for home teams to shut down the Leafs’ top line and still succeed. Clarke MacArthur poured in two tonight.
The chemistry is tangible among all four forward units. The Leafs had noticeably less energy from halfway through the first period until the end. But – here’s the key – they never stopped giving 100%.
There are no bad influences on this team now. No lazy influences (i.e. Darcy Tucker, Tie Domi and about fifty other guys). No sloppy influences. Now, it’s just character influences. With 27 seconds left, Gustavsson kicked his right pad and robbed Kris Letang from point-blank range.
Gustavsson wasn’t stand-on-your-head great tonight, but he was good enough. And, if the team plays like that in front of him, he just needs to make the saves he should make.
The last time the Maple Leafs started a season with four straight wins was seventeen years ago. Pat Burns’ boys – Dougie, Wendel, Dave Andreychuk and Felix – actually began that season with ten straight wins.
This group won’t do that – will they? – but every win moves the current Leafs one step closer to the goal Brian Burke has set for them this season – making the playoffs.