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Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jonas Gustavsson makes a save against the Winnipeg Jets during first period NHL action in Toronto on Thursday January 5, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn (Frank Gunn)
Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jonas Gustavsson makes a save against the Winnipeg Jets during first period NHL action in Toronto on Thursday January 5, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn (Frank Gunn)

Leafs Beat

Leafs' Report Card: Lupul, Gustavsson spearhead surge Add to ...

The Toronto Maple Leafs ended the first half of the season on a high.

Toronto earned its 21st win in Game No. 41 on Saturday, downing the Detroit Red Wings 4-3 in dramatic fashion and getting key contributions from two of the biggest surprise success stories of their campaign.

First is Joffrey Lupul, the Leafs’ winger who scored the winner Saturday to keep him among the top five goal scorers and top 10 point scorers in the NHL. The 28-year-old is on pace for a 94-point season, miles beyond his career high of 53.

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The Leafs’ second biggest revelation has been goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, who looked all but on his way out of the league after a 5-1 loss to the Florida Panthers in early November. Since then, Gustavsson is 8-3-0 with a 2.55 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.

Lupul and Gustavsson’s unexpected contributions have played a big role in getting the Maple Leafs into a playoff position at midseason, with Saturday’s win moving them to seventh in the East and on pace for 94 points.

Here’s a closer look at the other first-half storylines of the Leafs’ season:

FORWARDS

It’s been a two-man show almost right from the start.

Since arriving in Toronto, Lupul has displayed terrific chemistry with Phil Kessel, and the pair has become the second highest scoring duo in the NHL this season behind Vancouver’s Sedin twins.

Lupul and Kessel’s combined 43 goals account for one-third of the team’s goal production, making them easily the biggest factor in the Leafs’ being fifth in league scoring and having the third-best power play.

Elsewhere up front, the results have been mixed, with centres Tyler Bozak and Tim Connolly having plenty of success when with Kessel and Lupul, but other secondary scoring being hit and miss.

Nikolai Kulemin, in particular, has fallen off, scoring just four goals in 41 games after having 30 in a career year last season.

Grade: B+

DEFENCE

The Leafs’ revamped blueline deserves some of the credit for the team’s spike in scoring, as Toronto’s defencemen have combined for 18 goals after scoring only 26 all last year.

The problems have come in their own end, however, as only five teams have allowed more shots on goal than the Leafs.

The most encouraging sign for Toronto has been the emergence of captain Dion Phaneuf into a capable first-pair defender, but Luke Schenn, Mike Komisarek, Cody Franson and Keith Aulie have all struggled at times.

Grade: C+

GOAL

Gustavsson’s run couldn’t have come at a better time, as the Leafs were sinking in December in large part due to James Reimer’s struggles in attempting to come back from a concussion.

Overall, the Leafs’ goaltending hasn’t been nearly good enough. Toronto sits tied for 22nd with an .899 team save percentage, which is down from last season’s .904 and well off the league average of .909.

Few teams make the playoffs these days with sub-.900 goaltending, and either Reimer or Gustavsson must put together a strong second half to keep Toronto high in the standings.

Grade: C

COACHES

No conversation about the Leafs’ coaching staff can begin anywhere other than the penalty kill. Because it is awful, it’s difficult to give Ron Wilson a passing grade.

That said, shoddy goaltending has been at least part of the special-teams story this season, with Reimer’s .768 save percentage while short-handed the worst of any regular NHL goaltender.

Elsewhere, however, Wilson and friends have coaxed enough improvements from Kessel, Phaneuf and the power play that the Leafs are on pace for roughly another 10 points over last season. That number, more than anything on the penalty kill, will be what determines how good a year the coaching staff has had come April.

Grade: C

Key numbers: What's changed?

2010-11

2011-12

Difference

Goals per game

2.60

3.17

+0.57

Goals against

2.99

3.15

+0.16

Goal differential

-0.39

0.02

+0.41

Shots per game

28.8

28.6

-0.2

Shots against

31.0

31.2

+0.2

Shot differential

-2.2

-2.6

-0.4

Shooting pct

9.0%

11.1%

+2.1%

Save pct

0.904

0.899

-0.005

Power play

16.0%

21.6%

+5.6%

Penalty kill

77.4%

73.6%

-3.8%

Points per game

1.04

1.15

+0.11



IN A NUTSHELL

Toronto is on pace to score 27 more even strength goals, 12 more power play goals and one more shorthanded goal than last season

Toronto is on pace to allow the same number of even strength goals, 20 more power play goals and four fewer shorthanded goals than last season

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

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