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Red-hot Leafs still have worries

TORONTO -- Time travel is of great fascination to us science fiction geeks.

And as things stand now, who wouldn't love to go back to about 10:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 18 and whisper into the ears of the Toronto Maple Leafs that they would respond to a 9-2 loss to the Nashville Predators with a 10-1-1 run, and then watch to see what their reaction to those words would be?

"Probably, 'You're crazy,''' veteran blueliner Stephane Robidas told ESPN.com after Tuesday night's 6-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks continued the Leafs' torrid run.

"But at the same time, I remember we had meetings and talked about the fact that we knew we had a good team," Robidas said. "I look at our lineup and we have some really good players. We've got great goaltending, we got all the ingredients to have success. It's just a matter of cutting down on the shots against and limiting turnovers.

"We know we can score goals. We're a fast, skilled team, so the best way to defend is to play in the offensive zone.''

Well, there's no better way to sugarcoat your defensive shortcomings as a team than going out and filling the net like you're the 1980s Edmonton Oilers. The Leafs have scored a whopping 49 goals during their 12-game run and lead the NHL with an average of 3.45 goals per game.

"They remind me of my team in Washington," Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau told ESPN.com on Tuesday night, comparing his high-flying Caps teams of a half-decade ago to these current Leafs. "Because they're a very quick-strike team. They can be outplayed but if you give them a chance they can put the puck in the net. That means they're a very dangerous team.''

Mix in some excellent goaltending by Jonathan Bernier and his backup James Reimer, top 10 special-teams play and a more even spread of offensive contributions up front, and you've got a team that suddenly looks like it has a clue. Which is not at all what it felt like a month ago after that rout at the hands of Nashville.

The 24 hours after that game felt like a siege in this city -- self-proclaimed Center of the Hockey Universe -- with the franchise under complete attack from the top on down from fans and media, the backdrop to it all being the past couple of crash-and-burn seasons that have built such a fragile psyche among Leafs supporters.

But inside the protected walls away from that siege, a funny thing happened: the Leafs took a deep breath and picked themselves off the mat.

"That 9-2 kicking at the hands of Nashville was an event for our hockey club," Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle said. "You guys [the media] were part of it, that's what happens when you lose 9-2 in this market. That's not going to change. It's embarrassing and hopefully it crystallized our group. I think it has done that.''

There were some who wondered if Carlyle would be fired right then and there after the Nashville game, or whether players would be traded. Neither happened.

"I think you have to give credit to the organization [and front office], they didn't panic," Robidas said. "As players, you feel that. They said, 'Hey, this is our team, this is our coach, this is what's going on, we just got to correct it and we know we can do it.' It was the right message to send, that we would try to fix things with the players we had here, the solutions were right here.''

The fans have responded, too. The Air Canada Centre, to use former Leafs coach Ron Wilson's words, can be like a morgue at times, the corporate suits who can afford the NHL's most expensive ticket draining the rink of the kind of atmosphere an Original Six club deserves.

And while we're not ever (like, never) going to confuse the ACC with the Bell Centre or the United Center, there has been a noticeable change. On Tuesday night, there was a downright buzz in the building as the Leafs took down the NHL's top team. The fans were on their feet.

"The fans were amazing,'' said Robidas, whose Leafs are just two points out of the Atlantic Division lead.

"I think at times we've been guilty about not giving them something to cheer about," Carlyle said. "It's our responsibility, too. We're in the entertainment business. Winning hockey is entertaining hockey.''

Added Carlyle: "Over the last little while, our fans have been very energetic and very vocal and very supportive of our group.''

Now, let's also bring in a dose of realism. The Leafs are going to come back down a little. They already have with their play, in fact, except they've pulled out some wins anyway.

"Now I feel that we are slipping the last couple of games," Carlyle said. "We have to get back to that more energetic, more stop-and-go, more straight-line hockey. We do have some players that have continued to do it but we believe as a whole that our game has slipped.''

The Leafs were outshot 42-27 by the Ducks on Tuesday night and, frankly, outplayed for long stretches. They were also outshot (36-31) and outplayed for important stretches by the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday. Toronto survived for a pair of victories over two excellent hockey clubs, but it's going to burn the Leafs soon if they don't cut down on those turnovers.

The analytics community will also point out, and correctly so, that the Leafs are still living dangerously with bottom-five puck possession numbers, which are masked by a high shooting accuracy rate and, of course, great goaltending. Their possession numbers are above last season's, but still mediocre. So, the advanced stats folks will tell you that the Leafs are bound to come down to earth.

The schedule is about to be a factor, too. The Leafs play 17 of their next 22 games on the road, with the World Junior Championships punting them out of the ACC for a while. So the points banked in the standings during this latest stretch are extremely important.

And certainly, when it comes to the Leafs' faithful, there are many who will reserve judgment. There are 51 games left to play, after all, and we all know what happened last March. Whatever script remains to be written by this squad, the one laid out over the past 12 games has surprised just about everyone in these parts.

Of that, there is no debate.