Just 48 hours after one of their most lethargic efforts of the season, the Maple Leafs responded with a convincing 7-3 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night. A season-high 19,603 fans were on hand at Air Canada Centre to witness the shocking upset.
Following Toronto’s embarrassing loss in St. Louis two days earlier, coach Randy Carlyle said he thought his team looked “brain-dead” in suffering its 10th regulation loss in its previous 19 outings.
Few pundits would have given the Leafs any kind of hope against the surging Hawks, who not only entered the game with a three-game winning streak, but had not lost to Toronto since February 2003, when Duncan Keith was still in junior hockey.
But the home team received a spark from unexpected sources. Rookie Jerry D’Amigo scored his first career NHL goal. Peter Holland – the former Anaheim Duck obtained in a trade to help fill the Leafs’ depleted center position – scored twice, doubling his output for the entire season. Nikolai Kulemin also found the back of the net.
If the Leafs are to maintain their precarious hold on a playoff position, then production from beyond their top-line forwards is essential. Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk – who should have their flights booked to Sochi within a couple of weeks – are undoubtedly shouldering the load of the Carlyle’s offense.
But as researched by TSN.ca’s Jonas Siegel, the Leafs led the league on December 4 in percentage of goals scored by its highest seven-scoring players. Kessel, van Riemsdyk, Mason Raymond, Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri, along with the injured Tyler Bozak and Dave Bolland, had scored a whopping 84% of the team’s goals.
With a balanced attack necessarily to survive in the NHL, it’s no wonder that November and December have been unkind to the Blue and White.
David Clarkson has two goals, equalling the number of suspensions he has earned this season. Jay McClement, the team’s best penalty killing forward, has only a single tally. Those numbers need to be elevated
The blueline also needs to chip in. While the defense has shown recent signs of life, Toronto’s collective group of rearguards had a six-week drought bookended by October 22 to December 7 in which they did not beat a goaltender.
Maybe Carlyle’s squad isn’t brain-dead after all. It just needs all cylinders firing. Saturday’s win over Chicago is a step in that direction.