Leafs 5, Oilers 2. A solid effort all around and the Leafs are rewarded with an excellent result. Early on in the evening there was a familiar sound:
"Breaking in down the wing, Jason Blake fires... right on... and Deslauries will... hang on to the puck." /throw to commercial break
Yes, it was Freedom 55, back on the ice, fermenting and pissing his way to two important assists in the 3rd period. Good for him (and good for Ron Wilson), as that's exactly the contribution Blake needs to make on a regular basis. Hopefully this will help Blake realize his role as an effective 3rd line player, inspiring him to play his best in every situation, not just his favorites. Perhaps because of the Blake benching, I've been thinking about Cliff Fletcher's words this summer, which bkblades also made a point about in the GameThread. Remember when the Silver Fox said:
"If you look at our club, we really have only one player you can consider a top-six forward, and that’s Antropov... We have a couple others that are on the fringe of the top-six, but no one else".
Well, the Leafs do in fact have 6 top-six forwards, but Jason Blake ain't one of 'em, anymore then Ian White is.
The top two lines look set and pretty solid. I've been tracking the Leafs statistics the last 6 games, ever since the thrilling Rangers comeback, and a clear pattern of succesful point production has emerged. The victory against the Rangers belonged to the third line, who were in on almost every goal, with John Mitchell as the key motivator. It was the last game Jason Blake made any kind of meaningful contribution. Since then, including tonight's victory over Edmonton, the Leafs have scored a remarkable 24 goals in 6 games, almost all of them coming from the top two lines.
Grabovski has been on fire the past two weeks and is leading the way with 10 points in his last 6 games. His linemates - Hagman and Kulemin - have added 6 points each. This line has found some chemistry, and is clearly capable of carrying the Leaf offence on any night. However, what I like best about this line is that while Kulemin's game still needs a lot of improvement, the potential is there that as he improves, so will the line, and hopefully SuperKule will grow into a top line superstar.
"I don't know how much more you can say about Matt Stajan."
Totally. It's not like Ralphie to be at a loss for words. Matt Stajan has come alive. He's completely convinced me that he's a first or second line player who belongs with Antropov and Ponikarovsky. Amazing, but whatever, it's working. Stajan had another big night with 3 assists, and now has 9 points in his last 6 games. Ya, 9. I know - wow. He's really come along way since the begining of the season. Sure looks like a top-six player to me this week.
Stajan's linemates, Antropov and Ponikarovsky round out the Leafs top-six. The Lanky Kazakh, with another goal tonight, has kept a point-a-game pace for six games, with 3 goals and 3 assists. Poni, meanwhile, hasn't let a newborn in the house slow him down too much, chipping in with 3 points over the last six games.
I like this top-six, and I think Ron Wilson does too. At this point, the only player I could see replacing Stajan on the Antro-Poni line would be the Captain himself. Hopefully Jason Blake can see the talent and the chemistry on these two lines and will realize that the only way to get top-six ice time is to be the best 3rd or 4th line player on the ice, night after night.
Tonight was definitely a step in the right direction. Now, if they could get their 3rd and 4th lines rolling with the same attitude and regular success, Wilson might soon have this team looking like a serious playoff contender, or even, like a dangerous playoff darkhorse. Jason Blake may be the key in that regard. If he can come to work and accept the role that Wilson gives him with enthusiasm and determination (i.e. Ian White, 5 points in 6 games), the confidence and the expectations of the entire team might be raised.
Finally, I'd like to finish this post with a special congratulations to Tomas Kaberle. Tomas has struggled a bit this season in his own zone, but lately seems to be finding the offensive side of his game again. After last night's game in which Kaberle had a 3-point night,with a goal and 2 assists, he now has 8 points in his last 6 games, and, of more historical importance, equalled and passed Ian Turnbull for 3rd in all-time career points by a Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman, with his 414th and 415th points. Salming, the all-time leader (768) is still a long way off, but Tim Horton (458) could definitely be reached this season. Nicely done, Tomas. Keep 'er goin'.