OTTAWA – These are new heights for Joffrey Lupul.
“I've never played at this level before,” he said late Saturday evening. “To be honest, I'm kind of just figuring it out now as I go. I didn't necessarily know I was capable of playing at this level. And now I'm figuring out that I can do a lot of things out there that other guys can't.”
Lupul played catalyst with another dominant night as the Leafs stormed into the nation's capital and shut out the Senators, extending their season-long point streak to eight games while strengthening their playoff position to increasingly firm status, now tied with Ottawa for fifth in the East.
Simply fearsome in the past couple weeks, Lupul sniped a goal and added three assists on Saturday, helping Nazem Kadri to his second hat trick of the year. Now with eight goals, the Edmonton native has scored at least once in each of his six games back from injury, shooting a 40 percent clip in March (20 shots). He has compiled a monstrous 13 points upon his return from a 25-game layoff.
Lupul put together a career-best 67 points last season and received a five-year extension from the Leafs days before the year even began. A fractured right forearm three games in cast a quick shadow on his 2013 campaign, one that he's frantically erased upon his return.
“Lots of players mature at different ages and I think now I'm still improving every single day,” said the 29-year-old, who has five multi-point efforts in the six-game span. “I guess I'm old by NHL standards now, but definitely feel like I'm improving every day and I do have that desire to get better and better now and see how good of a player I can eventually be.”
1. Kadri's big night
Running shotgun with Lupul and Nik Kulemin, Kadri became the first Leaf since Alexander Mogilny in 2002-2003 to pot a pair of hat tricks in the same season, now with a team-leading 17 goals and 39 points this season. Just moments after his big night concluded, the 22-year-old was pulled out of the Toronto dressing room by Don Cherry himself, invited into the legendary Hockey Night in Canada set with Ron MacLean. “I just went in there and sat with Grapes and Mr. MacLean and I thought that was pretty surreal,” Kadri beamed, also adding an assist on Lupul's game-opening goal. “Don even gave me a peck on the cheek too.”
Kadri rose to sixth in league scoring with the career-high four point night, moving up to seventh overall in goals.
One side-note to an otherwise wowing performance was the decrease in his responsibility on the draw. Kadri lined up for just seven faceoffs – often replaced in the defensive zone by Jay McClement – finishing with just one win. An area for further refinement, Kadri tallied a 35 percent mark in the previous five games and sits at just 43 percent this season, fourth-worst among all regular NHL centres.
2. Reimer in Ottawa
James Reimer is unbeatable in Ottawa. Following his 31-save shutout on Saturday, the 25-year-old improved to 5-0-0 career at ScotiaBank Place, posting a microscopic 0.80 goals against average and hearty .976 save percentage. “I'm not quite sure why,” he said with a grin afterward. “I don't know if you can put a reason to it. But it is a fun place to play, just with the atmosphere and the Leaf fans and the Sens fans, makes for a good game so it's an easy game to get up for.”
He made his two most notable saves of the night on Guillaume Latendresse, stoning the Senators winger on a partial break in the first before shutting him down again on a full-on breakaway in the middle frame.
“James Reimer was there, made some big stops for us when we left him abandoned,” said Randy Carlyle, noting his goaltender's rebound control as the night wore on. Reimer's second shutout of the season comes just days before the annual trade deadline, rumours of the Leafs interest in acquiring a veteran netminder fluttering in recent days. And while his playoff experience will never be established in the regular season, Reimer is demonstrating himself more than capable in playoff-type games, now sitting at 13-4-4 record this year.
3. Not a role model
Lupul has compared a younger version of himself to Kadri in the past, but stressed after the game Saturday that he was no mentor. “What I am is a veteran player that's been through ups and downs before,” said Lupul. “I'm not trying to mentor him. He's got to pave his own way and make his own mistakes and do things his own way. I can try and be a leader a little bit, but I'm not going to interfere with his development. He's got to learn on his own and as you've seen he's doing a pretty good job of that.”
4. PK on the mark
Quietly impressive in the Leafs victory was another certain effort from the penalty kill. Ottawa entered the evening with the league's ninth-ranked power-play, but was shut down in all five opportunities on Saturday, empty in 11 tries against Toronto in the season series. The Leaf penalty kill has surged with a 73-80 mark over the past 25 games, now fourth-best in the NHL at 85.7 percent.
5. Season-long point streak
The Leafs improved to 5-0-3 in their last eight games – their longest streak of the season – snatching 13 of a possible 16 points. Saturday's victory catapulted them into a tie with the Senators for fifth in the conference (44 points), nine points up on the Rangers and Islanders with only 12 games to play. An early March skid has been completely erased with the Leafs now well on their way to the postseason for the first time in nine years.
“I think just going back to the drawing board and really reconstructing what we had to do,” Kadri said of his team finding its way. “I know everyone was kind of freaking out a little bit when we lost four or five games straight or whatever it may have been, but we just hit the reset button, were able to correct our mistakes and put together a lot better of an effort in this last stretch.”
Quote of the Night
“I've never played at this level before. To be honest, I'm kind of just figuring it out now as I go. I didn't necessarily know I was capable of playing at this level. And now I'm figuring out that I can do a lot of things out there that other guys can't.”
-Joffrey Lupul on his recent hot streak.
3-1-0: Record vs. Ottawa this season.
6-games: Joffrey Lupul goal streak. Lupul has eight markers during the streak.
40%: Lupul shooting percentage in March.
7-3-4: Record in March.
17-26: Tyler Bozak on the draw versus the Senators.
4: Points for Kadri on Saturday, a career-high.
32-20: Goal differential in first periods.
11-11: Penalty kill versus Ottawa power-play in four matchups.
6:53: Jay McClement on the penalty kill.
Following a four-day break the Leafs host the Flyers at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday.