Out of cellar, Maple Leafs win second straight
With Phil Kessel and Jonas Gustavsson in the lineup, the Toronto Maple Leafs are starting to show big improvement.
Kessel scored his first goal with Toronto and Gustavsson made 35 saves to lead the Maple Leafs to a 5-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night.
After a dreadful start to the season, things have started to turn around for the Maple Leafs. They've been playing much better hockey the past two weeks - buoyed in large part by Gustavsson taking over the No. 1 goaltending job - and have moved out of the NHL basement by winning two in a row and earning points in seven straight games (3-0-4).
Wayne Primeau, Jeff Finger, John Mitchell and Alexei Ponikarovsky also scored for Toronto.
Daniel Cleary scored for the Red Wings.
For Leafs coach Ron Wilson, there's no mystery in the turnaround.
"When you get solid goaltending it certainly helps," he said. "I think a big part of the game was a difference in the goaltending on both sides. Obviously having Phil Kessel in there as well, we just have a different feel."
Gustavsson, in particular, seems to have helped turn the tide.
He returned from a groin injury roughly two weeks ago and helped the team win the first game in Anaheim - the night the Leafs' points streak began. Gustavsson has started five of the six games since, winning in Carolina on Friday before beating the Red Wings 24 hours later.
"He's made some saves that I call game-changers," Leafs forward Jason Blake said. "Right at the key times and they've been outstanding. Last night and tonight, he was the difference. It was good to see."
Added Kessel: "Gustavsson in net tonight again - it's unbelievable. He played outstanding for us."
Toronto took a 2-0 lead in the first period. Primeau scored his first with the Maple Leafs at 10:34, when he came in off the wing and beat Chris Osgood to the blocker side.
Kessel extended the lead at 19:34 with a tap-in goal. Jason Blake's shot had rolled past Osgood when Kessel tipped the puck into an empty net.
"It's just an instinct thing," Kessel said. "You never know if a guy's behind you. All of sudden I don't touch it and then some guy hits it out of there - you've got to bury it. I'd expect anyone else to bury that one too."
Finger made it 3-0 at 5:21 of the second period after jumping into the rush and taking a nice pass from Lee Stempniak. It was a big goal for the defenseman, who has been a healthy scratch eight times this season.
Gustavsson was sharp once again, coming across his crease early in the third period to deny Henrik Zetterberg.
"Everybody on the team wants to win and wants to be successful," Gustavsson said. "We want the fans to be happy. When we started playing better, everybody's going to be happy. If we can just continue like this it's going to be a fun season."
Cleary ended up breaking his shutout bid shortly after when he sneaked in behind the Leafs defense and scoring at 5:59.
The hopes for a comeback didn't last long. Detroit was quickly penalized for too many men on the ice and Mitchell tipped home a Kessel shot on the power play, giving him goals on consecutive nights.
Ponikarovsky then scored to make it 5-1. It was the second time this season Osgood has allowed five goals.
However, that's only one issue hurting the Wings. They lost three key forwards to free agency in the summer and continue to get hit with injuries - Jason Williams left Saturday's game after fracturing his right fibula, joining Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula as injured Red Wings.
"We're obviously not scoring like we have in the past," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "I think one of the things we had to do is get our head around the fact that we've got the same sweaters (but) we can't play the same way. We've got to find a way to win.
"One of the things that's been fun about being a Red Wing the last few years is that we had the puck all the time. We've got the puck a lot (now), but we're not as dynamic offensively at all."
Notes: Seventeen members of the Hockey Hall of Fame were honored before the game - Steve Yzerman, who received the loudest ovation, is one of five men being inducted on Monday night. ... Fans sang former Leafs goalie Johnny Bower "Happy Birthday" during the second period. He turns 84 on Sunday.