TORONTO – Ron Wilson wants to change the subject.
Less chatter about injured goaltender James Reimer, his recovery and a growing injury list and more talk about the most dangerous duo in the NHL. Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul are currently the highest scoring twosome in the league after yet another dominant performance at home on Saturday night. Kessel scored a goal and added an assist, while Lupul chipped in with a goal and three assists of his own as the Leafs breezed by the struggling Washington Capitals, a 7-1 final at the Air Canada Centre.
"All our stories here are about who's not playing," said Wilson, "and there's no stories about the top two scorers in the NHL and that's what the story is right now.
"Let's talk about the people who are hurt and what we're not doing or doing for them. We should be talking and focused on the guys who are playing really well. Phil and Loops have been phenomenal."
Kessel remains atop the NHL scoring chart with 14 goals and 27 points with Lupul sitting just a couple notches below at third overall (Flyers forward Claude Giroux sits second) with 10 goals and 24 points. Remarkably consistent thus far, neither player has gone more than a game without a point.
"They work very well together those two," said Cody Franson, who scored his first goal of the season in the victory. "They read off each other very well. Phil's a great shooter, Loops has got a lot of good tools in his tool-box there and Kess has got to be one of the fastest guys in the league with a great set of hands and a great shot. When you've combine two guys that got all that going for them it makes for a nice pairing."
The duo has been especially assertive at the ACC with a combined 17 goals and 33 points in 11 games. Also interesting is how they've managed to score this season; 18 of their combined 24 goals have come at even-strength.
Both players appear to be in an unshakable zone right now. Two nights before Saturday in a 4-1 loss to Nashville, the pair had several chances, combining for 11 shots in defeat.
"We ended the game minus-4 I think," said Lupul, "but it felt like every time we were on the ice we were getting a chance, we were making something happen. It was bad luck in that game and not finishing our chances. But right now, we're strong on those pucks, we're keeping the puck alive in the offensive zone, and when we get the puck and get some time we're making good plays."
How's that Ron?
Opportunity is flashing in bright lights for Franson with Mike Komisarek sidelined for two months with a broken right arm that will require surgery. Franson logged 16 minutes and 49 seconds of ice on Saturday in his sixth game this season, scoring his first goal as a Leaf, throwing five hits, while also adding an assist.
A healthy scratch 14 times in the opening two months, Franson is pledging to learn from his early bout of adversity. "It obviously has been a bit of a different experience for me," Franson told the Leaf Report, prior to the game, "but it's one of those things you learn a little bit about yourself when you go through something like that in terms of adversity; you [either] let it get you down and let it beat you or you can stand up and beat it. I've tried to take that approach and just be bigger than the adversity, try and keep moving forward and stay positive."
Not much for superstition, Matt Frattin was willing to try anything to shake a goal drought that had lingered for 16 games. "I can't grow a beard or else I would," joked Frattin before Saturday's game. A moustache perhaps? "I can't even grow that," he smiled. "I get just whiskers, look like a cat or something."
Fortunately for Frattin, neither will be necessary. The 23-year-old scored his first in the NHL on Saturday, taking a nifty feed from Joe Colborne before beating Tomas Vokoun high with a laser late in the first period. "You don't want to get down on yourself, that's probably the biggest thing," said Frattin, beforehand. "You've got to keep knowing that you can score in this league and eventually you'll pop one in."
The 21-year-old Colborne was recalled prior to Saturday's game, finding his place alongside one-time Marlies linemates Joey Crabb and David Steckel. He logged a shade over 10 minutes in his second NHL game, setting Frattin up for a goal late in the first. "I'm not saying I expected him to make plays like that tonight," said Wilson, "but I was hopeful it would happen and it did."
Colborne was among the AHL leaders in scoring before missing three games with a lower-body injury. "There's quite a few guys down there who deserve a call-up so I feel pretty fortunate to be the guy," said Colborne, prior to the game.
"He's just a total package," added Crabb of the six-foot five Colborne. "He's got size and skill and he can pass the puck and skate. It's great to see him up here."
Stats To Consider: With three power-play goals on Saturday, the Leafs jumped to 6th best in the league on the man advantage (20.5 per cent)…Nikolai Kulemin added an assist in defeat, but has yet to score now in 13 consecutive games…Dion Phaneuf had just one point (minus-7) in the previous nine games, before posting a pair of assists (plus-2) on Saturday…Steckel snapped an 11-game drought with a third period marker against his old club. He finished at only 44 per cent in the faceoff circle (7-16), but still ranks first in the NHL at home in that category (65.8 per cent), second overall to Hawks captain Jonathan Toews…Tim Connolly had a goal and an assist giving him six points in eight games this season…The Leaf penalty-kill was a perfect 5-5 against the Capitals, now clicking at 89 per cent over the last eight games. No longer last in the NHL, the PK sits 27th overall at 76 per cent...Jonas Gustavsson had by far his best game of the season with 40 consecutive saves. Gustavsson allowed a Brooks Laich goal on the first Washington shot of the game.