Nikolai Kulemin probably wishes that the Dallas Stars were in the Eastern Conference, better yet–in the Northeast Division. In the only two games in which Kulemin has faced the Dallas Stars, he has racked up four goals — two goals in each game respectively, including a two goal performance in last night’s victory.
Kulemin, along with the rest of the Leafs roster, played superb last night against a Dallas Stars team that featured various potent offensive players, including Brad Richards, Mike Ribeiro, Loui Eriksson, and James Neal. The Leafs, for the most part, were able to contain these players for the majority of the game, and where defensive coverage broke down, Jonas Gustavsson made the requisite save to ensure a Leafs victory.
The scoring began in the first period, where Nikolai Kulemin notched his sixth goal of the year on a pretty deflection off a Luke Schenn shot. The puck actually first deflected off Mikhail Grabovski, but was then deflected again by Kulemin who was parked right in front of the net. The goal was one which the Leafs need to get more often–shots from the point in which the Leafs crowd the front of the net, looking for deflections or garbage rebounds. Hopefully the Leafs will continue to build on these sorts of plays, as it remains their best chance at scoring goals and winning games.
In the second period, Kulemin continued his tremendous play by taking a beautiful pass from Grabovski and firing it at Lehtonen. The puck didn’t go in, but rebounded right back to Kulemin, who followed through with the play and immediately fired the puck over Lehtonen’s left shoulder to take a 2-0 lead.
Shortly after Kulemin’s second goal, Brad Richards got the Stars on the score sheet after taking a pass from Steve Ott, who circled around the Leafs’ net, evading Luke Schenn who was unable to cover him. Richards was left wide open, thanks in part to a poor back checking effort on behalf of Phil Kessel. Ron Wilson promptly punished Kessel for the lack of defensive coverage by limiting his ice time for the remainder of the second period. Kessel would later bounce back to great play in the third period.
At 17:07 of the second period, Tyler Bozak made it 3-1 in favour of the Leafs by accepting a gorgeous pass from Nazem Kadri and rifling it top right corner over Lehtonen. The goal represented Bozak’s third goal of the season, and was a much-needed confidence booster for Bozak. The pass from Kadri was a thing of beauty, and gives Leafs fans another reason to be excited about this guy. In the 5 games that Kadri has played thus far for the Leafs this season, he has 4 assists and looked great last night, making many nice plays and almost notching his first career NHL goal.
Kris Versteeg finished off the scoring for the Leafs, getting his sixth goal of the season on an empty netter with 11 seconds to play in the game.
In net, Jonas Gustavsson continued his strong play, making 21 saves on 22 shots, for an 0.955 save percentage. Some suggest at this point that, given Gustavsson’s strong play, a goalie controversy may be in the works in Toronto between Gustavsson and Giguere. I am not quite convinced that this will be the case, but at this point Gustavsson’s tremendous play does make it tough to justify taking games away from him when Giguere returns.
It wasn’t all nice however last night, as Mike Komisarek continued to look uncomfortable in all areas of the ice. One particular instance comes to mind for me in the first period, where Komisarek made a terrible pass on the power play at the point across to his defensive partner. He fired the puck no where near his defensive partner and put the puck outside the offensive zone, forcing the whole team to abandon their relentless offensive pressure to eliminate the imminent offside. This was poor concentration on behalf of Komisarek. Komisarek also had several giveaways throughout the game–something that will not help fans ease their growing annoyance over the poor play of Komisarek.
The Leafs next game will come Friday night, when they travel to Buffalo to take on the Sabres at the HSBC Arena, a place that is not particular friendly to the Leafs, despite the fact that the crowd is almost predominantly Leafs fans. I’ll have a preview of this game later this week.
Missed last night’s game? Check out the “Game in Six” below:
If you also missed the emotional tribute to Pat Burns and Gaye Stewart last night, I have provided it below: