It’s been a long, long while since the Toronto Maple Leafs have won six games in a row.
This is a streak that has been more than eight years in the making, going back to Jan. 2, 2006, as the Leafs spoiled Sidney Crosby’s first NHL game in a Canadian city when Bryan McCabe scored in overtime.
Ed Belfour was in the Leafs goal, and Pat Quinn was in his last year behind the bench.
So things have obviously changed a little since then.
Playing on the second night of a back-to-back, Toronto jumped out to an early 4-0 lead 25 minutes into Tuesday’s game and then held on to win 5-2 against the Colorado Avalanche, getting yet another excellent performance from its top line in doing so.
It was an impressive performance, especially given it came right after two of the Leafs better games of the season in wins over the Montreal Canadiens and Phoenix Coyotes.
“We’ve got a confidence in our dressing room right now,” Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf told reporters after the latest win, “and we feel good about ourselves. We’re playing some good hockey right now.”
After falling out of a playoff spot less than two weeks ago, Toronto now has a big lead over the second wild card team in the East and can finally start to look at climbing up in the Atlantic Division race.
Here are a few key numbers that illustrate how they’ve made a sudden charge up the standings:
.932: That’s the save percentage for the Leafs goaltenders over the past six games, an elite number given the league average is about .914. Jonathan Bernier started four of those games, but it fell to backup James Reimer to come up big on Tuesday, making 35 saves against the Avs as they stormed back into the game. The Leafs have had strong goaltending essentially all season, but their save percentage over the first 46 games was only .918. They’re hot right now.
12: Number of points for Phil Kessel during the streak. The Leafs leading scorer added two goals on Tuesday to pass Crosby into fourth in the league’s goal scoring race and is on pace for a career high 41. Kessel had a season high eight shots on goal against the Avs, more than a quarter of his team’s total, and looked dangerous almost every shift. He’s also very hot right now.
220-180: Ratio by which the Leafs have been outshot over the last six games, which works out to 36.7 shots against and 30 shots for per game. That’s actually an improvement over their season totals, especially when you consider that teams leading in games always tend to give up more opportunities as they protect the lead (known as score effects). Toronto has been generating about 10 per cent more shots per game over this stretch than they were earlier, which is another key improvement.
19.7: Minutes per game in these games for newcomer Tim Gleason, who has played six of his nine games as a Leaf during this run. Of late, coach Randy Carlyle has been using Gleason (and partner Cody Franson) in a very defensive role, giving them the toughest zone starts on the blueline and freeing up Phaneuf for a more offensive role. As a result, the Leafs captain has had more shots on goal and has been more involved in what’s been a dangerous Leafs attack (see below). Gleason bumping Paul Ranger and Mark Fraser into the press box has also helped give a more calming influence to their defensive zone play (which remains a work in progress).
3.83: Average number of goals the Leafs have scored in the last six games, a huge increase over their average of 2.57 in the first 46 games of the season. Yes, two of those were empty netters, but the biggest difference has been Toronto’s ability to outscore teams at even strength. Some of that has been shooting percentage driven (10 per cent at even strength and nearly 13 overall) but you can certainly make a case they’ve been due for some better results in that department, too.
Can they make it seven in a row in Dallas on Thursday?
The Leafs evolving defence corps
Very little has changed on Toronto's blueline over their recent hot streak aside from the addition of Tim Gleason, who was acquired in a trade on New Year's Day. But so far he's proven more of a stabilizing force than Ranger or Fraser and allowed Phaneuf to take on more of a scoring role. Gardiner has also been more productive lately as the Leafs have started to generate some offence from their defence.