But one thing is clear: this particular version of the blue and white seems destined to be in a lot of close games this season. Until Thursday night’s Washington encounter at the ACC, the Leafs had been grabbing leads and sometimes struggling to close the deal. Against a Caps team that has not been managing many wins this season, the home town boys made a spirited third-period comeback to snatch two big points in a season that is already going by very quickly.
(On a partially related note, as a pure hockey fan, I miss the old ‘run and gun’ Capitals, when Ovechkin was Ovechkin. It was a pleasure every single night just to see someone who played the game with so much skill, passion and enthusiasm. But once Bruce Boudreau felt they had to start playing defense, and then Dale Hunter tightened the screws even further last season, the team has been, well, like watching the Devils. Under Oates, they are neither fish nor fowl, it seems. And Ovechkin now looks like a shell of his former self, though that's not a new observation, I guess. Amazing…)
That Kulemin scored his first of the season should help him going forward. Young van Riemsdyk not only scored a goal while taking up residence in front of Neuvirth most of the night (because the Leafs were on the power play so much), but he was getting a variety of scoring chances, which is normally a positive sign. Kadri was dangerous as has been the case most of this season, setting up Frattin’s winner mid-way through the third period. The puck follows Kadri around, which never hurts, eh?
Kessel? I don’t know that he can do much more than what he’s doing. He is getting just about every kind of scoring opportunity imaginable (even the empty net at the end was not big enough in the dying seconds). As I’ve said here many times before, the puck just isn’t going it. I don't think his overall game this season is really any better or worse than before. Bad luck, good goaltending, goalposts, a fraction of an inch here and there. But he’s a threat when he’s on the ice, and that helps open things up for his linemates.
Bozak played big minutes again. McClement picked up another assist. Komarov went to the net on the winning goal. Phaneuf registered more than 28 minutes again. Ryan Hamilton acquitted himself well in fairly limited minutes and did his job in each situation he faced. In short, lots of guys contributed to what turned out to be a nice win.
Maybe most importantly for me, Reimer was, well, the Reimer we knew in his rookie season. He gave up an early one (which he did fairly often that season). Then he gave up a bit of a stinker to an otherwise quiet Ovechkin. After that, he shut the door. He was particularly sharp in the last few minutes of the game, when the Capitals tested him fairly severely. He stood tall, and the Leafs now look to a match-up with the Bruins on Saturday with some confidence in tow, and a record of four wins and three losses.
Winning beats losing, every time.
Some of you will no doubt think, here we go again, but one guy that continues to impress me is Mike Kostka. Oh, I know a lot of Leaf fans have been saying that he is the anchor around Phaneuf, that he shouldn’t be on the power play and is playing too many minutes for a 27 year-old rookie who has spent his whole career until now in the minors.
I see a different picture. I see a player filled with enthusiasm and skill. Maybe he is a late bloomer, or a guy who has been over-looked and pigeon-holed as a minor-league player. The hockey world is not beyond that kind of thinking. It happens sometimes.
As I have admitted before, I would not have known Mike Kostka six months ago from the man on the moon. But I am really impressed with his presence on the ice. He can shoot, he moves the puck well, seems to know when to jump into the play. Yes, he makes mistakes but I’m pretty sure he’s not the only Leaf (or NHL player, rookie or veteran) who makes mistakes.
It’s not just a “nice story” at this point, though Kostka’s surprise (for me, at least) emergence is certainly that. Some have predicted he will soon end up back in the minors, or at the very least, with diminished minutes on the Leaf blueline—or a seat some nights up in the press box. But I see something more. And I’m pretty sure Carlyle knows more than me and if he really thought there was a better way to go—in terms of a partner for Phaneuf, ice time, or Kostka’s ability—than my guess is Kostka would not be playing anywhere from 22 to 28 minutes a game. The Leafs have lots of defensemen in the system, with the big club and with the Marlies. Clearly, Carlyle sees something he likes in Kostka.
Take away his minus 4 night against the Rangers, when he played 30+ minutes or so (and still did some good things; the whole team wilted under duress as that game wore on and the Ranger forwards took over) and would fans think he has not been a positive contributor? I think he has been.
Will that change? Sure, it might—maybe by a week from now. I’m happy to hear arguments to the contrary, but for now, I won’t assume that Kostka won’t continue to show he’s a bonafide NHL player, and maybe even more than that, until he proves otherwise.
Bring on the Bruins.
Bring on the Bruins.