UNIONDALE, NY – The holidays will be that much merrier in Toronto.
Edging past the Islanders by a 5-3 final at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Friday night, the Leafs grinded into the Christmas break with five points (2-0-1) in their last three games, now sixth in the Eastern Conference with 40 points.
"You don't want to be an Ebenezer Scrooge at Christmas time for a couple of days," Ron Wilson said. "To get five of the last six points was huge for us to start moving ahead and being confident."
The Leafs jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the opening frame, kick-started by Clarke MacArthur's first in 10 games. Turnovers and some pushback from the Islanders saw that lead evaporate into just one, before Joey Crabb potted the shorthanded game-winner midway through the second.
"We want to continue to get better every night as a group and learn from experiences that we've had whether it's good or bad," Dion Phaneuf noted. "You look at a game like tonight; we come out really well and then have a little bit of a lapse, but I thought it was really good to see how we responded there to finish it."
The Leafs inched past the Sabres by a 3-2 final one night earlier, set to hit the road for a three-game trip following the two-day break, rolling through Florida, Carolina and Winnipeg.
"We really wanted to get these last two going into the break," MacArthur concluded. "It's not much of a cushion, but it's something when we get back, we get on that road trip we can try and build on it some more."
1. Nazem Kadri added his second goal in as many games since being recalled from the Marlies. Kadri deposited a backhand past Evgeni Nabakov on the powerplay for the Leafs second goal. "Nazzie's making all the right plays right now," Wilson said. "I can't remember him really turning one over tonight so that's a real plus. He's got to keep playing like that every night." Decision-making has caught the eye of teammates in each of his first two games. "He's been playing well and not just the scoring aspect," Tim Connolly said, following a two-assist performance. "He's making little plays, doing the smart things, keeping the game simple, chipping pucks in, back-checking; those are the things that are important for a hockey team."
2. Kadri has quickly injected a spark alongside Connolly and MacArthur on what proved to be the Leafs most effective line on Friday, responsible for the three opening goals. "I just think we're all kind of on the same page offensively," Kadri said. "We know each other's instincts and where we're going to be. It's coming together well. We're talking, we're moving the puck and I think it's definitely showing out there." The 21-year-old buried a MacArthur feed for the game-winner against the Sabres one night earlier.
3. James Reimer made 30 saves, not looking entirely comfortable at times in his first set of back-to-back starts this season. "A few times I thought he looked a little fatigued, but he still managed to get the job done," Wilson said. "That's the important thing." "It seemed like pucks were bouncing in my glove a little bit," Reimer added. "But I was trying to fight to see the puck, just fight to get a sight-line and try and get something in front of it." The win was Reimer's first in five starts on the road this season (1-3-0).
4. With an assist on Crabb's shorthanded winner, Tyler Bozak has now posted seven goals and 19 points in the last 19 games, totaling 24 this season. The 25-year-old is only eight points away from matching his total from all of last season.
5. John-Michael Liles sat on Friday with a sore neck (he'll return on Tuesday) allowing Jake Gardiner to check back into the lineup after a one-game stint in the press-box. "He looked fine tonight," Wilson said. "Just reset the computer. He was moving the puck, he had a good stick tonight and he was moving his feet." Gardiner logged a shade under 19 minutes, adding an assist on Kadri's second of the season.
Carl Gunnarsson led the Leafs in ice-time with over 23 minutes, notching his first goal of the season, also finishing with a plus-3 rating. "He was really good defensively; great stick, moving pucks, shutting down important people when he had to. He had a great game," Wilson said…Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul teamed to score the empty-netter with Lupul potting his 16th of the season. Kessel inches to within two points of Claude Giroux in the scoring race (41 points), while Lupul jumps into a tie for sixth (38)…The Leafs improved to 2-3-1 in the second half of back-to-backs this season, also improving to 10-8-0 on the road.