Leafs v. Devils, Take 2: A New Day

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    For the second time in four days the Maple Leafs will face off against the New Jersey Devils, this time at the ACC. In what seems to be the most nonsensical decision made in recent memory by NHL schedulers, come this Friday the Leafs and Devils will have faced off three times in one calendar week. What’s up with that?

    As you are all undoubtedly aware, the Leafs have a few new faces in the fold, and we are all eager to see what Phaneuf, Sjostrom, and Giguere bring to the table as members of the blue and white.

    Note: I won’t get into trade analysis here; that has already been covered in excellent fashion by the MLHS crew in prior posts.

    Game Notes

    • The last time these two teams met, four days ago, the Devils skated away with a 5-4 victory.  The Leafs were able to rally to force overtime, but lost while killing a penalty in the extra frame (easiest bet in Vegas).
    • Alexei Ponikarovsky’s recent hot streak, which included the tying goal and an assist against New Jersey, coincided with the addition of ex-Leaf Matt Stajan to his line.   How he will fare with a new centre will be one of the more intriguing aspects to watch.
    • Zach Parise nearly beat the Leafs all by himself last game.  For the Leafs to find any success in this one, shutting down Jersey’s aptly-named “ZZZ” line (Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Danius Zubrus) is a must. Wilson will be counting on Phaneuf to provide some physicality against a unit that skated circles around a lackadasial Leafs D last time out.
    • New Jersey is a Jacques Lemaire-coached team. Which means, if leading (even by one goal), they will at roughly the midpoint of the game shift into full-out trap mode. To avoid this scenario, or to counter the trap should it rear its ugly head, the Leafs must play a strong puck pursuit game, and must win the dump-and-chase plays tonight. If their effort lets up after 40 minutes – as it did against Vancouver in Saturday’s debacle – they will have little to no chance of winning this hockey game.
    • Phil Kessel v. Martin Brodeur, lifetime: 0 goals, 5 assists, 8 games.  Will tonight finally the night Kessel puts one by him?
    • Update: Apparently not. According to Fire & Ice, Brodeur will get a much-deserved rest after starting New Jersey’s past 33 games. Backup goaltender Yann Denis gets his first start since Nov. 21.

    Lineup Notes

    • Various practice reports suggest Ponikarovsky will get a crack at top line duties with Bozak and Kessel.
    • Recently-recalled C/W Christian Hanson is expected to centre John Mitchell and Lee Stempniak.
    • 3rd line expected to be Kulemin-Wallin-Sjostrom, 4th: Rosehill-Primeau-Orr.
    • Dion Phaneuf may get shifted around during the game, but is expected to spend time alongside Tomas Kaberle in the early going, and on the PP.
    • Jeff Finger was a placeholder on the second line in practice (Leafs could not recall Hanson in time due to a post-trade roster movement freeze pending physicals for the new players).  Often that role is a sign the player will be a healthy scratch.
    • Mike Komisarek misses yet another game. Most have written off the Olympics for him already, and some are beginning to wonder whether he will play the rest of the season at all.
    • J-S Giguere, who seems quite happy to mentor Gustavsson, gets the start in net.

    Stats Pack

    NJ TOR
    Overall Record 35-17-2
    (2nd East)
    17-28-11
    (15th East)
    Home Record N/A 9-12-5
    Road Record 17-8-2 N/A
    Goals For 140 (t-22nd) 148 (16th)
    Goals Against 120 (1st) 195 (30th)
    Powerplay % 19.2 (t-9th) 16.4 (25th)
    Penalty Kill % 82.6 (13th) 70.2 (30th)
    Scoring First 22-5-0 11-4-4
    Leading After One 17-1-0 7-4-1
    Trailing After One 9-13-1 5-15-3
    Leading After Two 24-1-0 13-1-2
    Trailing After Two 3-14-0 0-25-6
    Overtime 8-2 1-11

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