The good news from Sunday night’s NHL matchup with the Hurricanes is that Leafs will conclude 2012 win (another) victory.
The other good news is that Paul Ranger scored a huge goal that helped his team win on home ice.
The good news on top of that is the team won four points of a possible four points from weekend action, and also has points in each of their past five games win or lose.
And finally, the best news is that Leafs next action comes on the outdoor ‘pond’ known nationally as the University of Michigan Stadium, a facility more commonly used by the NCAA Michigan Wolverines Division I football club.
The Leafs take on the Detroit Red Wings in their first outdoor game in team history.
On Sunday night, Phil Kessel scored twice, reaching the 20-goal plateau for the sixth straight season, to help the Toronto Maple Leafs defeat the Carolina Hurricanes 5-2 in NHL play Sunday.
The speedy Leafs sniper could have had more on the night, missing on two breakaways.
It also marked the first time since Leafs’ dominant 7-3 performance over defending champs Chicago that the Leafs were able to put a team away within the three periods of regulation. Three of four games since that date (Dec. 14) required overtime or a shootout.
Nikolai Kulemin, Paul Ranger and Dion Phaneuf, with an empty-net goal with eight seconds remaining, also scored for Toronto, which won despite something of a Jekyll and Hyde performance. Goaltender Jonathan Bernier has also been proving his worth, with a .920 save percentage.
The game also marked the return of one of the team’s top centremen, Tyler Bozak.
“I thought we were all right,” Bozak said of his line. “We had some lapses in the D-zone. We kind of got some good bounces as well… the puck was kind of following us around tonight. It’s nice obviously whenever that happens.”
Bozak picked up a career high three assists on those tallies as part of a surprisingly strong start for him offensively, something that will inevitably lead some to draw the connection between his return and the two points.
Nathan Gerbe and Justin Faulk replied for Carolina (14-16-9), which has not won in five games – a stretch that included two overtime defeats.
Jonathan Bernier made 41 saves as Carolina outshot Toronto 43-27 before a crowd of 19,452 at the Air Canada Centre. The Leafs were loose on defence and were fortunate the Hurricanes did not punish them more.
Leafs Head Coach Randy Carlyle however sees his team as being far too easy for opponents to play against. And he is not afraid to say it.
“That seems to be the mandate for teams coming in here: Try to force us to play as much defence and in our own zone [as much as possible] and pinch their d-men down the walls,” he said. “It’s no secret. And we haven’t been able to handle that or manage the game properly in that area. We’ve got to get better at it.”
Carolina (14-16-9) outshot Toronto 43-27 on the night, only to see its winless streak stretch to five games.
The Hurricanes have won only one of their last nine outings (a stretch that has featured four OT losses).
CARLYLE NOT CRAZY (about the videocams)
Carlyle even told the cbc that he isn’t exactly looking forward to one of the biggest games of Leafs history, Wednesday afternoon in Ann Arbor.
“I wasn’t waving the pom-poms to be involved with it to start with,” Carlyle said after his team’s well-deserved victory Sunday night. “It’s been a trying time.
“Specifically we haven’t played as well as we’d like to hang our hat on. Our group, we believe, has got lots of room to grow, so that always put added pressure on. And then you’re much more under the microscope if you can believe it. We’re under the microscope with you (media) guys alone and then you add the element of HBO and then the event, there’s a lot of factors.
I wonder if Carlyle is talking about the media because he knows he can, or if he really doesn’t have any other excuse for the poor team playing at time. I don’t hear other coaches talking about media being a huge distraction, and this is Toronto, you have to get used. To it.
The game marked the halfway point of the season for Toronto (20-16-5) and was its last outing before Wednesday’s outdoor Winter Classic against Detroit before an expected crowd of 100,000-plus at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Mich.
OThER LEAF NEWS OF THE DAY
-I woke up this morning to find out that Dion Phaneuf has re-signed with the team. Given a seven-year contract worth nearly $50 million over seven years.
-Nazem Kadri has been the subject of several trade rumours. One has him being shipped off to Carolina possibly with defenceman Jake Gardiner in exchange for Jeff Skinner. Some observers are blaming the cameras of HBO for igniting certain behavior between the young centre and head coach. On the other side, Detroit head coach Mike Babcock has also been seen fuming over the HBO cameras from the television series designed to promote the Winter Classic, called 24/7.
-On a somewhat lighter note, forward David Clarkson went to the dressing room in the second period to have his elbow stitched up but returned in the third healthy enough to smash Tuomo Ruutu to the ice.
“Probably the best period of hockey he’s played for us,” said Carlyle.
-The gamet was Bernier’s 28th appearance of the season, compared to 18 for James Reimer.
Bernier has started nine of the last 15 games, with Reimer pulled during two of his six starts during that stretch.
Carlyle refused to interpret the numbers when asked what it meant that Bernier had started three straight.
“He’s played three straight games. That what it says.”
-NHL might consider outdoor game at BMO soccer field in Toronto