12 games to go and the Toronto Maple Leafs are within touching distance of the playoff spot that has eluded them for eight long, dark years.
A confident 4-0 win over the Senators in Ottawa last night will have gone a long way in convincing their long-suffering fans that they can shake off the seemingly eternal pessimism that has gripped them since the last lockout.
Nazem Kadri, to whom the term ‘red-hot’ cannot do justice, scored a blistering hat trick and now lies 6th in the league in points. It was the Kadri-Lupul show again for the Leafs, who now have points in eight straight games and lie a comfortable nine points ahead of the 9th placed New York Islanders.
The Leafs comfortably lead the NHL in fights and early on the snarl was back in the Battle of Ontario. Frazer McLaren’s frightening knockout of David Dzuirzynski three weeks ago has clearly lingered in the memory for certain Senators and the first period saw three fights and several scrums.
When it came to the hockey, the Senators were the architects of their own downfall. Daniel Alfredsson’s hooking penalty in the offensive zone early in the first period gave Joffrey Lupul all the opportunity he needed, standing in front and deftly deflecting a Kadri pass between the legs of Ben Bishop.
In the second it was Chris Neil’s turn to give his make a contribution to the Leafs offence. A lazy trip on John-Michael Liles after chasing him around the Leafs net led to a delayed penalty, a point shot from Liles and a rebound stuff-in from Kadri.
Until that point the Senators were absolutely in the game and by the end had outshot the Leafs 31-23. But the chances were largely from the outside and dealt with comfortably by James Reimer who is now 5-0 in Ottawa and probably cannot wait to come back.
Reimer made a series of excellent saves throughout the night and deserved the shutout that will give GM Dave Nonis much to think about as the trade deadline looms. Discussion has apparently resumed with Vancouver over the prospect of bringing in Roberto Luongo, but on this evidence, Reimer may be well ready for the challenge that awaits him.
Reimer will have left Scotiabank Placewith his head held high – Senators rookie Jakob Silfverberg on the other hand, not so much. The young Swede’s brutal giveaway in his own zone put the puck straight onto the stick of an onrushing Joffrey Lupul, who only had to tap it across the crease to Kadri for his second.
By the time Kadri had fired another bullet past Bishop, again assisted by Lupul, Scotiabank Place resembled a funeral home. The only sound to be heard was the familiar chorus of boos for Daniel Alfredsson which continue to follow him in his own building.
But even the booing was quiet. It was as if the Leafs fans had other, more important things to think about.
Like the playoffs.
Notes: Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner was a healthy scratch for the first time this season. Gardiner’s defensive shortcomings have been exposed in recent games and he may be used as trade bait if the Leafs go after a veteran centre before the deadline.
Dion Phaneuf led the team in ice time and is now 2nd in the League in that category behind Florida’s Brian Campbell.