Maple Leafs 4, Stars 1
The chemistry between Nikolai Kulemin and his linemates has provided a big boost to the offense of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Kulemin scored two goals and the Maple Leafs earned a 4-1 win over the Dallas Stars on Monday night.
He has seven goals on the season, tying him for second on the team with linemate Clarke MacArthur.
''At the start of the year you'd never have expected us to click like that,'' said MacArthur, who leads the Leafs with 18 points. ''I just feel like we all have a good little quality and we're hungry every night - that's the biggest thing. I've played on lines where some nights we're taking nights off, and these guys are bugging me every day to go to the morning skate's when they're optional.
''They've been pushing me and I've been trying to push back.''
Tyler Bozak and Kris Versteeg had the other goals for the Maple Leafs (8-9-3), who got 21 saves from Jonas Gustavsson.
Brad Richards scored for Dallas (10-8-1).
Gustavsson continued his strong play in relief of J.S. Giguere, who has missed three games with a minor groin injury. The Leafs backup has stopped 87 of 91 shots during that stretch.
''The more I play, the more experienced I get,'' Gustavsson said. ''I feel in great shape right now and that's positive.''
Among the things MacArthur has done to try and build chemistry with his Russian-speaking teammates is joining them for a meal during a recent road trip through Florida.
''We went out to dinner the other night and there wasn't much said for me,'' MacArthur said. ''I was just kind of sitting there. The two of them talked and I sat there.''
Kulemin opened the scoring while doing something coach Ron Wilson has been preaching all season - standing in front of the net.
Luke Schenn's point shot was tipped by both Mikhail Grabovski and Kulemin, leaving Kari Lehtonen with little hope of stopping the puck at 10:52 of the first period.
That wasn't the case on Kulemin's second goal. The Stars goaltender let out a rebound before Kulemin connected on his second chance at 14:05 of the second period.
''It's not always elegant with Kulie,'' Wilson said. ''He's got a lot of rough edges, but he's hard to play against because he's so big and strong.''
Richards made it 2-1 just 86 seconds later. He one-timed a shot past Gustavsson after teammate Steve Ott made a nice play to carry the puck around the net and found him with a backhand pass.
''It wasn't pretty tonight,'' Richards said. ''They pressured us and we didn't handle it very well. We weren't really in the game.''
Toronto restored its two-goal lead before the intermission when Nazem Kadri picked up his fourth assist in five games this season. The Leafs rookie found Bozak, who beat Lehtonen high at 17:07 of the second period.
Kadri narrowly missed scoring the first goal of his NHL career in the third period after beating a defenseman and getting off a shot while falling to the ice. Lehtonen made a nice stop on the play.
Even still, Toronto's offense has improved with the 20-year-old in the lineup. Since Kadri was called up from the AHL on Nov. 12, the Leafs are 3-2-0 and have scored 15 goals in five games.
''He's still young but he's producing just about every game,'' Wilson said of Kadri. ''He's creating scoring chances and paying attention and trying to do things defensively. ... If his play falls off, he may need some more seasoning in the minors.
''But right now it doesn't look like it.''
Wilson was unhappy with Phil Kessel for failing to cover Richards on the Dallas goal.
The coach benched him for the rest of the period, which is why he only played 15:05 in the game, his second-lowest total since joining the Leafs last season.
''He didn't backcheck on the goal,'' Wilson said. ''Message sent, message received. He played hard in the third period.''
Notes: Toronto used the same lineup for a third straight game ... Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf sat out a ninth game since suffering a deep cut to his right leg ... Dallas forward Loui Eriksson has played 235 straight games going back to Dec. 7, 2007. ... Richards, a pending unrestricted free agent, on rumors the Leafs may try to trade for him this season: ''When the time comes, if that's an option, Toronto is always a No. 1 hockey destination. It would be great being a Canadian playing in Toronto, but we're not even close to that bridge yet.''