It was opening night for the Joffrey Lupul show in Toronto on Thursday, as the Leafs hosted the surging Devils. But stealing the spotlight for Leafs Nation were two youngsters, Keith Aulie (surprisingly) and James Reimer (unsurprisingly.)
Aulie easily turned in his best performance as a Leaf thus far, racking up 21:56 of ice time on the back end, while also logging the most short-handed minutes of anyone on the team. It was unfortunate that both he and Reimer were involved in Ilya Kovalchuk’s game winner at 4:36 in the extra frame, as they both deserved a better fate.
The team as a whole, however, didn’t necessarily deserve to escape this one with a win. And that isn’t to say the Leafs played poorly at all.
It was a tight game that neither team could really gain control of, and to be quite honest, I thought the Leafs played pretty decent despite the large amount of shots given up (39). A third period deflection goal by Dainius ZubrusÂ finally beat Optimus Reim after he piled up a bunch of key saves earlier in the contest. And despite some good pressure by the Leafs late, they couldn’t muster the two points.
The win moves New Jersey to a staggering 11-1-1 in their last thirteen, while the Leafs still look good at 4-1-1 this month. I really can’t express it enough that this was simply a close checking game that could have went either way.
One thing I particularly enjoyed was seeing Phil Kessel rewarded with another point after showing some great persistence on a play to set up Nik Kulemin for his 21st. As cold as Kessel has been in the goal department, he’s shown some determination in creating offense regardless. The goal puts Kulie on pace to crack the 30 mark.
Something that wasn’t exactly enjoyable to watch was the Leafs on special teams. Going 0-5 on the powerplay usually doesn’t go hand in hand with winning, and the team really needs to mix things up and try something new as they’ve been absolutely brutal with the extra man lately.
As Reimer remained steady in net, the team just couldn’t find the twine at the other end and it was as much to do with the Devils’ tight defensive play as it was misfiring by the Leafs.
The single point moves Toronto to seven points back of Carolina, who lost a 2-1 game to the Flyers. Both teams have played 55 games.
A few stats to note:
Top ice time by a Leafs defenceman: Schenn at a whopping 28:23
Top ice time by a Leafs forward: Bozak at 20:58
Mike Komisarek logged only 8:47 of time on the ice.
Phil Kessel ripped another five shots on net, to no avail obviously.
Newcomer Joffrey Lupul logged 18:08 of ice time and had a -1 rating. His TOI average this year so far has been 13:13 with the Ducks.
Up next: The Leafs head to Montreal on Saturday for a 7:00pm game with the Habs. Let’s see if Aulie can replicate his impressive performance tonight against a very fast Canadiens club.
Enjoy the weekend folks!
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Last word: I thought Lupul had a decent game. He narrowly missed on a great chance in the third, and other than that he looked confident with the puck. As far as the group of forwards go, he’s a guy you want to see with the puck on his stick over a lot of the rest. This guy will score at a good pace if healthy.