SUNRISE, FLA – The Leafs are doing their best to temper the enthusiasm of a quick start.
Ben Scrivens led the way with his second consecutive shutout as the emerging Toronto upstarts blanked the reeling Panthers 3-0 at the BT&T Center on Monday night, their sixth win in the last seven games and seventh in nine tries on the road.
Now sitting with 10 victories (10-6-0) a third of the way through the season, the Leafs are finding different ways to sustain their success. This latest victory and the unlikely quick start have generally produced muted levels of excitement, perhaps wisely after recent experience. "We don't want to get over-excited," Clarke MacArthur said shrewdly, a goal and an assist to his name in the win. "It's really early yet. We want to keep building. Our team game's getting better and better and our goalies are playing great. It's a good feeling that we're building something here, but we don't want to get too over-excited."
Randy Carlyle has been emphatic with such a message, continually proclaiming – accurately it's wise to note – that his team is a 'work in progress' despite the surprising string of success. "I don't like to put any thinking towards where we are as far as what we've accomplished," he said after the latest win. "We haven't accomplished anything. We've won 10 hockey games. Some days you feel good about your team and other days you don't. We seem to stray away from some of the things we have to do to become more consistent."
Carlyle was admittedly alarmed early in Monday's hockey game as his team sprung defensive leaks left and right, bailed out on each occasion by Scrivens, who turned aside all 14 Panther shots. Phil Kessel put the Leafs ahead with his third of the year late in that opening frame with the action truly turning midway through the second frame after Nazem Kadri upped the lead to two on what's become a dominant road powerplay (see Stat Watch).
Last season is perhaps the best lesson for this group in maintaining the so-called even-keeled approach to its early success. The Leafs held a playoff position as late as February 23 a year ago, spiraling out of the proceedings in catastrophic fashion, Ron Wilson fired and Carlyle hired in the process.
"Obviously we want [the success] to last and we're going to work on doing the little things to make it a consistent thing every night," said MacArthur. "It's a good start. We're happy with the start, but the finish line's where we've got to make it happen this year."
1. Scrivens superstitions and shutouts
If Scrivens has one superstition, it's to forget about superstitions. "I try as hard as possible not to be superstitious," said the 26-year-old following 144 consecutive minutes without allowing a goal. "I'm fairly liberal with my pre-game routines. I try to stay loose and just enjoy it. Again, once you get out on the ice, it's just focusing on the process of one shot at a time, try and read the releases [of the shooters], try and watch the puck, give yourself a chance." Scrivens recalled last posting back-to-back shutouts in college, three in a row actually during a playoff run that culminated in an ECAC title for Cornell. "And one was against Harvard so even better," he grinned.
2. Scrivens and St. Croix
A loyal follower of former Leaf goalie coach Francois Allaire, dating back to those days with the Big Red, Scrivens has found a comfort zone with Allaire's replacement, Rick St. Croix. "One of the best parts about working with Rick is he hasn't come in and tried to change our foundation," Scrivens told TSN.ca on Monday morning. "We haven't come in and wiped the board clean and started from scratch. I'm extremely pleased with that response. Obviously they trust how we were playing up to that point." Carlyle has previously noted that in conversations with St. Croix prior to the season, they had discussed not pressing the goaltenders to change, but rather molding around their strengths. He did note, however, that they'd ask the two – James Reimer being the other – to be a little more aggressive in their approach. "We've worked on just maintaining your presence in the net," Scrivens said, "...if you want to call that being aggressive. I don't know if I would, I still think I play the same way. I tried to be at the top of my crease last year and Rick's not telling me to go out to the hash-mark. It's really focusing on trying to be at the top of the crease when you have the opportunity to."
3. Leaf goaltending
While he has played in only eight games, Scrivens has skyrocketed to third overall in save percentage, posting a .939 mark after Monday's victory. The injured Reimer sits closely behind with a .929 mark himself. Leaf goaltending a third of the year through the year has simply been far better than expected. "You come in thinking we've got two young goalies and yada, yada and then something else happens," MacArthur said. "Now they're playing well and it's like 'Oh this is the right move'... It's great to see it paying off for those guys." MacArthur spoke revealingly about the effect stability in goal has had on the group, noting that individual mistakes are now being erased by the goaltenders, "you kind of brush them off [and say] 'Oh I guess that wasn't a big mistake'. That's what a goalie does for you." He continued with interesting insight into the woes of Toronto goaltending in recent years. "In years past sometimes maybe you make the big mistake and it goes in and then it's like 'Oh my God'," he recalled. "[Now they] make a big save, and you can kind of shrug it off and keep going and that's what's happening."
4. Kadri growth
Regaining control of the Leafs scoring lead with a goal and an assist, Kadri continued his hot start, now with 14 points on the year. MacArthur noted the 22-year-old's growth. "The first couple of years you see the talent level and you see all that, but it's tough to put it together in the NHL. You've got to get that confidence. He's getting better every day now. He's got to keep working at it though; he's got so much skill, he's got a huge upside to him. He's got to keep working." MacArthur noted recently that Kadri "makes a lot of room out of not a lot of room" perhaps the perfect description of his feed on the third Toronto goal; three Panthers surrounded the London, Ontario native at the Florida blueline before he dished it off to a wide-open MacArthur.
5. Redemption for Kostka
One of the final cuts at Panthers camp in the fall of 2011, Mike Kostka admitted to slight feelings of redemption before facing off against Florida on Monday. "I'm not sitting here going 'I'm going to get them'," he grinned following the morning skate. "I don't have a bad thing to say about the organization, but at the same time there is that part of you still, when they do trade you away. It was a tough experience to go through. And I have a lot of friends on the other team too so it's always fun to give it to them as well."
Quote of the Night
"You come in thinking we've got two young goalies and yada, yada and then something else happens. Now they're playing well and it's like 'Oh this is the right move'... It's great to see it paying off for those guys."
- Clarke MacArthur, on Leaf goaltenders exceeding expectations.
Quote of the Night II
"For us, the season is a blur. To think about we're one-third of the way. It's been like one big road trip for us ... It's not like you get a lot of time to sit back and analyze where you're at because the next one is the most important one and we're already focused on Tampa for [Tuesday] night."
- Randy Carlyle, on being a third of the way through the season with 10 wins.
Quote of the Night III
"First one was a good one, good call. The second one I didn't do anything stupid, but it's okay ... [Expletive] happens. It was my bad."
- Leo Komarov, on the two diving penalties he took in one period against the Panthers.
25 per cent - Leafs powerplay percentage on the road (9-36).
1 – Kessel's first period goal was his first at even-strength this season.
5 Games – Point streak for Dion Phaneuf (two goals, four assists).
2 – Diving penalties for Komarov in the middle period against the Panthers.
20-21 – Leafs penalty kill over the past six games, now ranked 17th overall (81.1 per cent).
21:52 – Carl Gunnarsson, in his first action following an eight-game absence (hip injury).
The Leafs visit Steven Stamkos and the Lightning in Tampa for the second end of a back-to-back set in Florida.