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|Kulemin off schneid at last as Leafs top Sabres.
17 ноября 2013 года. Zwolinski, MarkView. Toronto Star
Nik Kulemin reached for the heavens in celebration after finally scoring a goal.
The Maple Leafs winger scored the eventual game-winner in Saturday night's 4-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres, and it wasn't just any goal. Kulemin got a huge monkey off his back with his first of the season - on just his third shot of the season - leaving one less Leaf forward buried in a goalless drought that has become a concern for team management.
Kulemin looked like the sniper from the 2010-11 season who bagged 30 goals, taking a nice set-up from Mason Raymond and snapping a wrist shot into the top corner.
Buffalo goaltender Jhonas Enroth had no chance, the shot was that good. But it also begged the question: where has that shot been through Kulemin's first eight games this season?
Kulemin's absence from the scoresheet was puzzling enough on its own, but his total of three shots on net suggested something more serious might be happening.
Kulemin is a proud individual and an extremely hard worker, so his effort is never questioned. But at some point, even a diligent checker and defence-first forward like Kulemin manages more than three shots through eight games.
From the Leafs' standpoint, there doesn't appear to be the level of alarm over the numbers that, say, fantasy players might have experienced after selecting Kulemin for their pool to start the season.
Kulemin entered Saturday's game even in plus-minus, and that's arguably a good stat, given his almost complete absence from the scoresheets.
There is another traditional plus with Kulemin as well - his contributions to the penalty kill. Kulemin sees just under 16:30 of ice time per game from Leafs coach Randy Carlyle, and there's a reason for that. Despite his lack of scoring, Kulemin helps his team win through attention to defensive details (something coaches love).
Kulemin, however, wasn't the only Leaf in the scoring doldrums.
In losing three of four games prior to Saturday's win, the Leafs were drawing attention to themselves for their lack of scoring.
The numbers were getting alarming: two even-strength goals in five games. Seven of 12 forwards entering Saturday's game had not scored a goal yet this season, including David Clarkson, Jay McClement and Kulemin - all important pieces for the Leafs.
On higher ground, the likes of Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Raymond and James van Riemsdyk had combined for six goals in the previous six games.
The Leafs were losing games, but they were still relatively competitive thanks to their goaltenders, who had combined for a 1.47 goals-against average in their previous seven games.
Carlyle wasn't overly alarmed; the coach felt the players were largely focused on the game plan and weren't being rewarded for the work they put in.
The coach wanted his team to simplify things, take more shots on net and have his forwards hunt down rebounds and score from the so-called "dirty" areas. That expectation was covered when van Riemsdyk scored a pair of first-period goals Saturday off goalie screens.
Kulemin made it 3-0 at a time when the Leafs, after plugging away with tough, regimented play, forced the Sabres to open up.
And when the Leafs have ice to move in, they can be very dangerous. The aim moving forward will be to get Kulemin, Clarkson and others to find a hot hand while maintaining their defensive responsibilities.