The Toronto Maple Leafs entered the 2010-2011 season with their sights set on the playoffs. However, they knew that if they were going to reach the postseason, they would need to overcome some offensive struggles.
Fortunately, with surprisingly great seasons from Clarke MacArthur, Joffrey Lupul, Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski, they have been able to do just that. Lately though, the Leafs have made scoring in the NHL look easy.
“We’ve had the goal scoring, not deep into the lineup be we still find a way,” head coach Ron Wilson said while talking to the media after Saturday’s 4-2 win over Ottawa. “We’ve got two lines that are very dangerous and playing really well right now.”
One of those lines Wilson is talking about is the combination of Joffrey Lupul, Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak.
Going into the season, Leaf fans and some members of the media were expecting big things from Bozak. The 25-year-old had scored eight goals and 19 assists in the final 37 games of the 2009-2010 season, leading many people to think he would be the right person to centre the Leafs’ top line.
Unfortunately, Bozak has been anything but. In 79 games this season, he has 14 goals and 17 assists to go along with a minus-28 rating. However, he has managed to post three points in his last five games, including the game winning goal on Saturday against Ottawa.
His linemates, Kessel and Lupul, have been even more impressive.
With his goal on Saturday night, Kessel stretched his point streak to seven games. That same goal was also his 30th of the season, making 2010-2011 his third consecutive 30-goal season. Despite being known as a 30-goal scorer, Kessel says he still wants to get better.
“You always want more,” Kessel said after Saturday’s game. “This year I’ve had a lot of chances to score goals but they haven’t been going in that much.”
Kessel isn’t the only prominent goal scorer playing on that line.
When Lupul came to Toronto in February, there were a lot of people who doubted whether he would ever be able to return to his 20+ goal form because he was only 26 games into his return to the NHL following back surgery. However, the 27-year-old has scored eight goals and eight assists in 25 games since coming to Toronto.
While the Lupul-Bozak-Kessel line has been successful lately, the trio of MacArthur, Grabovski and Kulemin has been getting the job done all season.
With 21 goals and 40 assists in 79 games, MacArthur has made Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke look like a Hall of Fame GM, while Grabovski (29 goals, 29 assists, 79 games) has made Cliff Fletcher look the same way and Kulemin (29 goals, 27 assists, 79 games) has made John Ferguson Junior look better─that’s it.
Thanks to the resurgence of Dion Phaneuf though, not all of the Leafs’ offense has come from the front.
Ever since Tomas Kaberle was traded to the Boston Bruins, Phaneuf has appeared to be more aggressive and willing take risks. He now has eight goals and 22 assists in 63 games. Three of those eight goals have come by way of the power play, which has also been a strength of his lately. We’ve been seeing him leave the point and drift deeper into the offensive zone and even battle for the puck in the corners. He’s been doing all of this while remaining solid on the defensive side of the game.
The only problem is that Phaneuf is the only Leafs defenseman who has reached the 30-point plateau, not including Kaberle’s statistics in a Leaf uniform; Luke Schenn is second on the team with 21 points.
But as long as the forwards keep producing, Phaneuf doesn’t drop off and Reimer remains solid, it doesn’t really matter if the captain is the only defenseman consistently putting up points.
“We’ve got offense and we believe in ourselves,” Wilson said.