The Maple Leafs snapped a seven-game road losing streak on the season against the Senators at the perfect time given their upcoming schedule. Ottawa was right on Toronto’s heels in the Atlantic Division standings, but the win puts the fourth place Maple Leafs eight points ahead of the fifth place Senators.
Along with being a significant win within their division and only their second victory in the last seven games, Toronto also managed to pick up two points in the standings just before a horrific five-game stretch. The Maple Leafs’ next five games will see them face the past four Stanley Cup champions, along with one of the league’s best teams, the St. Louis Blues. Not many schedules get more difficult than what Toronto will have to compete against, which makes picking up the points against Ottawa even more significant.
It wasn’t a pretty victory, but since there are no style points in the standings, it doesn’t really matter for the Maple Leafs. Toronto gave up 50 shots for the second consecutive game, but also managed to win for the second consecutive game. After Jonathan Bernier stood on his head and stopped 48-of-50 shots against in a 3-2 overtime victory against the Dallas Stars, James Reimer matched his teammate’s performance by stopping 47 of the 50 shots he faced against Ottawa . Toronto’s goaltending duo struggled in November after an incredible October, and the Maple Leafs suffered in the standings because of it. However, given that Bernier and Reimer have both led the team to victory despite enduring 50 shots against, Toronto is hoping December is a lot more like October than November.
The biggest reason the Maple Leafs struggled in November wasn’t due to their goaltending, but instead had more to do with the all injuries to the lineup. Although Toronto is only near the league average in terms of games lost due to injuries, the players they have lost to injuries are such key members to the club that they’ve been impossible to replace. The loss of Tyler Bozak, Dave Bolland and Joffrey Lupul took away three of the team’s top-six forwards, and very few teams can recover from losing half of their top-six forwards.
Thankfully for the shorthanded Maple Leafs, James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel stepped up against the Senators just in time given the upcoming schedule. Kessel had a goal and an assist, while van Riemsdyk had a goal, two assists and scored the shootout winner.
If Toronto stands any chance of surviving the next five games, they’ll need the American wingers to play their best hockey of the season. With limited secondary scoring to support the duo, opposing defenses will have Kessel and van Riemsdyk as their first, second and third priority, given the drop-off in talent after Toronto’s top-line.
Like the team’s goaltending situation, van Riemsdyk and Kessel were hot in October but struggled mightily in November, partly due to Bozak missing the majority of the month. However, just like the goaltenders, van Riemsdyk and Kessel have started December with impressive performances that have seen the duo combine for 10 points in three games.
If the Maple Leafs are going to keep their head above water during the upcoming five games, they’ll need their goaltenders, along with van Riemsdyk and Kessel, to continue to play the way they’ve started this month.