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TORONTO – The shootout has proven a viable saving grace for this years edition of the Maple Leafs. When Reid Boucher shot wide i

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TORONTO – The shootout has proven a viable saving grace for this years edition of the Maple Leafs. When Reid Boucher shot wide in what would be the Devils final attempt on Jonathan Bernier in the third round of the skills competition Sunday, he handed Toronto its eighth victorious decision in the shootout this season – tied for the most in the NHL. In fact, the Leafs have more victories in the shootout since the start of November (six) than they do in regulation/overtime (five), a fact thats masked, until recently, just how poorly the team has performed in the past two-plus months (12-16-5). But for a team that was teetering on a four-game losing streak – the second longest this season – the winning decision at the ACC, in a reality divorced from the game itself, was nonetheless needed and important. "Well, we can breathe," said Randy Carlyle, following the 3-2 victory, the second in two tries against the Devils this season, both wins coming in the shootout. "Theres been a lot of gasping going on, and even in this game there was a lot of gasping going on how tight it was." It was not a pretty performance in many regards – the Leafs were outshot 38-25 and out-attempted 83-48 – but one that at least offered some of the requisite intensity and desire that had been missing amid the recent slide and quite often throughout whats been a disappointing campaign to date. And they might very well have won it in regulation had it not been for a blown call on Tyler Bozaks apparent go-ahead goal in the second frame. "Guys are a little looser tonight already," Mason Raymond told the Leaf Report shortly after the win. "It feels good. It feels good to get a win." "Hopefully this relieves a little bit of the stress thats involved for our hockey club, and they can get back playing to the way were capable of playing," added Carlyle. Consistency has been a foe of his team so far. The Leafs have reeled off exactly one winning streak since October – it lasted three games, two of which were won in shootouts – winning back-to-back games on just two other occasions. Stringing together heartier efforts against the Capitals and Devils in recent days then is just a mild step in the right direction. The teams response in an upcoming back-to-back with the Bruins and Sabres will indicate whether, in fact, a corner is gradually being turned. "I dont think its an exact recipe you can follow," Raymond said of achieving consistency. "Youve got to build off the things, in my opinion, that you did well, stay positive and believe. I think thats a big part of it is just believing that we can get the job done and go out there and get wins." "I think the last few games our compete level and effort has been way better," said van Riemsdyk, who scored for the second straight game, "and I think if we continue to play in that same mold well have some more results that we want." Five Points 1. Gardiners Development Pt. 1 Carlyle labeled 23-year-old Jake Gardiners performance in Washington Friday night as "the model in which wed like him to play. Gardiner, who had been scratched for just the second time all season one night earlier in Carolina, raised his performance in the eyes of the coaching staff against the Capitals. "Much different Jake Gardiner," said Carlyle, observing improved strength and intensity in the defensive zone as well as better decision-making with the puck. Such is the road to development for a young defender in the NHL. Many ups come with many downs. "Jake is a talented young player and there are steps that he has to continue to take," said Carlyle, who met with Gardiner briefly at the end of Sundays morning skate. "With Jake, he has the ability to move the puck both with his hands and with his feet – he can skate. He would like to make more consistent decisions with the puck and so would we. Weve struggled to find a consistent level for him over the last probably five or six games." That inconsistency led Carlyle to scratch Gardiner last week, a questionable move that blew up in a 6-1 loss to the Hurricanes. But if the sit-down was designed to spark a reaction then it may have achieved some success the next night in the U.S. capital. "I think what happens with young players is they find that theyre always trying to do one thing and maybe trying to do too much of one thing and that sometimes turns into where you skate the puck into areas where you shouldnt and turn over the puck," said Carlyle. "But hes a young player that has got a tremendous upside." 2. Gardiners Development Pt. 2 What Carlyle has done additionally, in the mean-time, is remove Gardiner from the teams top two pairings – he and 19-year-old Morgan Rielly formed the third grouping for the second straight game against the Devils – and thus lighten the burden he is exposed to on a night to night basis. Speaking to the Leaf Report on Sunday morning, Gardiner described his decision-making with the puck as one needed improvement, an issue again at times on Sunday night. "Dont try and force anything," he said. "I think I was trying to make plays that werent there and I was maybe trying to move the puck a little bit too quickly. When theres not an open guy, maybe just be patient and hold onto the puck a little bit." Gardiner, who played over 24 minutes against the Devils, is averaging nearly 22 minutes per game this season, second on the team. 3. Bolland Front Dave Bolland hasnt played since Nov. 2, when his left ankle was sliced by the skate blade of Canucks forward Zack Kassian. The 27-year-old has missed 32 games with the injury, but is due to finally start skating with the team on Thursday. Bolland recently traveled to Montreal in hopes of having a new boot designed specifically to support the injured area. That boot was due to arrive in Toronto on Monday with the Mimico native then expected to skate before joining the Leafs on a four-game road trip next week. An exact timeframe for return remains unclear. 4. Harder to Play Against? Asked before the game if this version of the Maple Leafs was as difficult to play against as the one that ended a lengthy playoff drought last season, Carlyle responded flatly in the negative. "Nowhere near," he said. "Weve been scratching our heads and trying to figure out why." And if there was one element that remained constant from a Friday loss in Washington to Sundays win in Toronto, it was the intensity of his group. The execution may have been lacking at times, but the compete Carlyle has been prodding for remained. "Thats one thing that weve really tried to put at the forefront in the last three weeks to a month is that our compete level has to go to a level where were satisfied," said Carlyle on Sunday morning. "Thats the one thing that weve said is our compete level has to go up." Carlyle pointed to the simple will required to win puck battles. "We have been guilty of just standing around in those situations," he said. "I call it getting inside. I think to be inside in todays NHL is the key because you cant hook and hold, you have to skate your way to get inside. "When we do it we can play effective hockey and give ourselves a chance to win. And when we dont do it were receiving the game, were standing around. I would say thats the biggest mystery for the coaching staff." 5. Stunted Starts Toronto has exited the first frame with a lead in 12 of 47 games this season, trailing, by comparison, on 17 occasions. Substandard starts have been a source of considerable trouble, often requiring the club to dig out from an early hole without much ultimate success. "All year long, weve [had] pretty poor starts," said Gardiner. "We try to dig ourselves out of it and then we start playing well and its too late by that time so if we can play almost desperate and aggressive I think well have better starts and itll lead to a better outcome." The Leafs started slowly again on Sunday – outshot 7-1 in the opening 10 minutes – but rebounded during the back half of the period, finding the games first goal from Tyler Bozak, his seventh this season. "We were rusty, I thought, for the first 10 or 12 minutes of the game," said Carlyle. Stats-Pack 8-4 – Leafs record in the shootout this season. 13 – Points in the past 11 games for Tyler Bozak, who has 19 points in 23 games this season. 8 – Shootout wins for the Leafs this season, tied with the Capitals for the most in the NHL. 1 – Goals in the past 14 games for Nazem Kadri. 24:23 – Ice-time for Jake Gardiner against the Devils, second on the team to Dion Phaneuf. 62% - Leafs success rate on the draw against the Devils. 2 – Consecutive games with a goal for James van Riemsdyk, who had two in the preceding 15 games. Special Teams Capsule PP: 1-4 Season: 21.8% (5th) PK: 3-4 Season: 77.4% (27th) Quote of the Night "I asked him if he could watch it after the game and maybe next time he has a game [with us] he can apologize or something because that was pretty brutal." - James van Riemsdyk, on his conversation with an official following Tyler Bozaks waved off goal in the second period. Up Next The Leafs visit the Bruins in Boston on Tuesday night. Cheap Jaguars Jerseys . Karlovic of Croatia used his big serve to beat Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic 7-6 (6), 7-6 (7). Kohlschreiber had lost all of his three previous matches against Istomin but the German broke serve for a decisive 3-2 lead in the third set and held on to reach his first final of the year. Cheap Jacksonville Jaguars Jerseys .com) - Carmelo Anthony tallied 31 points to help the New York Knicks continue their improved play of late with a 100-92 victory over a short-handed Oklahoma City Thunder squad. http://www.cheapjaguarsjerseysauthentic....n-taylor-jersey. When a game is in the balance, however, they still have the personnel and the experience to end up with the two points. Wholesale Jaguars Jerseys . Watch the action live on TSN and listen on TSN 1050 Radio beginning at 7pm et/4pm pt. The Raptors maintained their spot atop the Atlantic Friday after defeating the Wizards, 96-88, for their second win in a row. Josh Allen Jersey .com) - Carmelo Anthony scored 31 points with eight rebounds to lead the New York Knicks to a 92-80 win over the Los Angeles Lakers.LOS ANGELES -- Yasiel Puig was scratched from the starting lineup after arriving late for the Los Angeles Dodgers home opener on Friday. The rest of the team was already on the field stretching before batting practice while Puig was getting dressed in the clubhouse. He had been slated to start in right field for the afternoon game against the San Francisco Giants, who beat the Dodgers 8-4. "Im sincerely sorry," Puig said through a translator after the game, explaining that he didnt realize stretching and batting practice would be held so early with a 1 p.m. start. Puig said he apologized to manager Don Mattingly and his teammates, and they accepted. "They felt it was OK when I owned up to it and apologized," he said. "I felt bad I wasnt out there playing for all the fans." Instead, Matt Kemp replaced Puig in the lineup after manager Don Mattingly had earlier said Kemp wouldnt start. Kemp came off the disabled list on Friday after rehabilitating from left ankle and shoulder operations. He was limited to 279 games during the last two seasons because of injuries. Puig, last years runner-up for NL Rookie of the Year, was 5 for 20 through his first five games of the season. He wasnt used as a pinch-hitter because Mattingly said the situation didnt call for it. The Dodgers trailed 8-0 after two innings. Mattingly downplayed Puigs mistake. "He truly felt bad," the manager said. "You can tell by his body language; he doesnt hide things well." Mattingly said he thought not allowing Puig to plaay was more fitting punishment than fining him a couple hundred dollars.dddddddddddd "He felt bad he wasnt here and I believe that," Mattingly said. "Hes a good kid. Does he have to grow up and get better? Yeah, but theres a lot of guys like that." It was the latest in a series of frustrations for the team involving Puig. Last week, Mattingly called a team meeting after the 23-year-old Cuban defector made two mistakes on the basepaths during the Dodgers opening two-game trip to Australia. The dynamic right fielder became an instant sensation last year when he made his big league debut in early June and helped lead the Dodgers from last to the NL West title. But Mattingly often was frustrated by Puigs decision-making in the field and on the bases. Puig twice was arrested for reckless driving last year, when his effort on the field also came into question at times. He went 5 for 22 (.227) with 10 strikeouts and committed defensive miscues against St. Louis in the NL championship series. He remains a fan favourite, but the Dodgers want to see Puig grow up, be consistent and show better judgment on and off the field. Catcher A.J. Ellis chalked Puigs mistake up to something that can happen to any player in the mix of day and night games. "Its one of these learning experiences," Ellis said. "Hes going to be fine. Im sure hell be very prompt and on time for the rest of his career, hopefully." Saturdays game against the Giants also starts at 1 p.m. "Ill be here early," Puig said. 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