There were several areas of the Toronto Maple Leafs' game to like on Thursday.
They beat the rival Buffalo Sabres 3-2
to stay among the top-eight in the East thanks to Phil Kessel's best game in recent weeks, big contributions from call-ups Darryl Boyce and Nazem Kadri as well as another standout performance from goalie James Reimer.
With the Winnipeg Jets and Washington Capitals gaining in the Eastern Conference standings and the Ottawa Senators hanging tough, Reimer turned in back-to-back 40-save efforts at home to allow the Maple Leafs to snatch three-of-four points this week. By all accounts, Reimer was even better during Toronto's open practice at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday.
Reimer certainly has regained his form after his stay on the sidelines with a head injury. If the Maple Leafs have designs to end their six-season playoff drought Reimer will have to continue to play this way. Those in front of him have been unable to carry on the form they exhibited in the 9-3-1 start that had the Maple Leafs in first in the East.
This was his 50th NHL appearance since the 23-year-old from Morweena, Man. was given a chance to turn around the Maple Leafs fortune a year ago. He has gone 26-13-8 with an impressive .917 save percentage and 2.65 goals against average.
Reimer is the real deal, and the Maple Leafs first go-to guy in goal since it was decided to end their association with Ed Belfour in the summer of 2006.
Meanwhile, Kadri almost ruined his fifth first-impression with the Maple Leafs. After a strong start to his AHL season, the 21-year-old forward was promoted from the Marlies because of an upper-body injury to Philippe Dupuis.
After the Sabres tied the game early in the third period, Kadri drifted a high shot from the slot through traffic for the game-winner. But then he took a tripping penalty on Sabres defenceman Christian Ehrhoff with four minutes remaining in the game. The usually inept Maple Leafs penalty killing came up big to keep the Sabres off the board and Kadri out of the doghouse.
"I was holding my breath there," Kadri admitted.
We like the fact Kadri has been given a chance to play among the top-six forwards on the Maple Leafs in his fifth time being called up. We also like that Kadri, who played 13:43 against Buffalo, should fit in better this time around because the Maple Leafs have never had so much speed in their game and his strength is his swift skating.
With Boyce, we never understood why he wasn't given a chance to start the season with the Maple Leafs. He was part of the success that saw Toronto play so well in the final three months last season. But Boyce wasn't given a chance to continue his part because the Maple Leafs brass wanted to give others like Dupuis an opportunity.
Boyce didn't get an assist on the Maple Leafs first goal from fourth-liner David Steckel on Thursday, but Boyce battled hard and did most of the work to enable Toronto to tie the game at 1-1 in the second period.
The Maple Leafs will play one final time before the Christmas break when they visit the New York Islanders on Friday. Besides the Toronto, other Canadian teams in action on Friday include: Ottawa at Carolina; Pittsburgh at Winnipeg; and Calgary at Vancouver.
Here is a glance at where the seven Canadian clubs are in the conference standings at this point compared to last year at the Christmas break.
2010-11 Team 2011-12
15-18-3 (14th) Calgary 16-15-4 (11th)
12-18-3 (15th) Edmonton 15-16-3 (13th)
20-13-2 (6th) Montreal 13-16-7 (12th)
15-17-4 (10th) Ottawa 17-14-4 (7th)
12-17-4 (13th) Toronto 17-13-4 (6th)
20-8-5 (3rd) Vancouver 21-11-2 (4th)
19-13-5 (5th) Winnipeg 16-13-5 (9th)
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