Joffrey Lupul had to look at the stats to believe it himself. And even then it still seemed a little surreal.
The Toronto Maple Leafs forward found himself tied for third in NHL scoring after putting up a goal and three assists Saturday during a 7-1 pounding of the reeling Washington Capitals.
“I didn't (expect) that in a million years,” said Lupul. “I felt good and I was confident and I knew I was going to have a good year. I didn't expect to be at the top of the league in point scoring but it's a long year and hopefully I can stay there.”
He's currently in pursuit of linemate Phil Kessel, who had a goal and an assist against the Caps to boost his league-leading totals in goals (14) and points (27). Philadelphia's Claude Giroux is second with 26 points while Lupul and Buffalo's Tomas Vanek are tied with 24.
Lupul has far exceeded expectations since being acquired from Anaheim in a Feb. 9 trade. The 28-year-old sat out almost a full calendar year with back woes before returning to the Ducks lineup in December 2010 and prospect Jake Gardiner was considered the real prize when Toronto acquired him and Lupul for Francois Beauchemin a couple months later.
Instead, it's been the veteran forward making that trade look so good.
“I have a lot of confidence right now because we've been getting some results,” said Lupul. “I could tell right from training camp I felt pretty good. I was confident with my game, I was confident with the way my body felt for the first time in a long time. Things went pretty well.
“I didn't expect this type of start, but I did expect myself to play well.”
He was all over the ice against Washington, stealing the puck before setting up Tim Connolly for a goal just 1:39 in and later tipping home one of Toronto's three power-play goals in the second period. He also drew assists on goals by linemates Tyler Bozak and Kessel.
It was exactly the kind of pressure-relieving performance the banged-up Leafs needed. Forced to ice a lineup missing seven players due to injury, contributions came from some unexpected places as well: maligned goaltender Jonas Gustavsson tied a career high with 40 saves, Matt Frattin scored his first NHL goal and Cody Franson chipped in his first as member of the Maple Leafs.
“We didn't really have too much secondary the last four games,” said Frattin. “It kind of hurt us because (opponents) were getting leads and we couldn't really come back because we couldn't get one in the net. Today it looked like every line was firing.”
Connolly, Bozak and David Steckel had the other goals for the Leafs (11-7-2), who won for the first time in five games at Air Canada Centre.
Brooks Laich replied for Washington (10-7-1).
Times are extremely tough for the Capitals, a team with heady expectations that is mired in a 1-5-1 stretch. No player better encapsulates their struggles than captain Alex Ovechkin, who was held without a point for a fourth straight game and heard derisive chants of “Ovvvviii! Ovvvviii!” in the third period.
“I think we have lots of skills on this team and all the lines can score goals, as you've seen in the first 10 games I think,” said Ovechkin. “Right now nobody can score and it's just frustrating that when we have the opportunity to shoot, we're squeezing the sticks to hard. It's hard.
“It's something you have to fight and work harder.”
Added coach Bruce Boudreau, whose job could be in jeopardy if things don't turn around soon: “It feels like the end of the world but it's not the end of the world.”
Gustavsson has endured his share of ups and downs in the Toronto goal this season, but Saturday he delivered a strong performance. He turned away all 15 shots he faced in the second period, including two in quick succession from the frustrated Ovechkin.
The Leafs were in need of that support. The team is playing without injured top goaltender James Reimer, defenceman Mike Komisarek and forwards Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur, Colby Armstrong and Mike Brown.
Even though Reimer's absence stretches back to Oct. 22, Gustavsson has spent a lot of time on the bench recently after seemingly being supplanted by third-stringer Ben Scrivens.
“It's a big performance for him,” Lupul said of Gustavsson. “He was our backup goalie at the start of the year to Reims and Scrivens came in and has played I believe the last three games. I'm sure he would have liked to have been playing those games.
“It just shows what type of guy he is and the competitor he is. He practised hard and obviously stayed sharp.”
Toronto chased Capitals starter Tomas Vokoun early in the second period and put a punctuation on the victory with a breakaway goal by Steckel on Michal Neuvirth in the final minute. The long-time Caps player was thrilled after ending an 11-game scoring drought.
“It was huge for me,” said Steckel. “I mean I know it was 7-1, (but) it was shorthanded, it was against my old team and I was just happy. It felt good.”
The Caps looked completely dejected as they skated out the final seconds of their most lopsided loss of the season. The mood couldn't have been much different for a Maple Leafs team that packed up quickly for a flight to Carolina, where they'll face the Hurricanes on Sunday afternoon.
When the puck drops on that one, Toronto's lineup will feature two of the hottest scorers in the league.
“It's a real positive and it's a good story,” said Wilson. “All our stories here are about who's not playing and there's no stories about the two top scorers in the NHL. That's what the story is right now. ...
“We should be talking and focused on the guys that are playing really well. Phil and Lupes have been phenomenal.”
Notes: The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to legendary goaltender Johnny Bower during a stoppage in play. He turned 87 on Nov. 8. ... With Komisarek out, John-Michael Liles wore an ‘A' for Toronto. ... Capitals defenceman Mike Green sat out with a groin injury. The team is 2-7-1 without him this season. ... Steckel played 291 games with Washington from 2005 to 2011. ... Announced attendance was 19,594.
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