It wasn’t pretty, but the Maple Leafs took it to New Jersey 4-2 Monday night and moved up in the standings. Nazem Kadri continues to be Toronto’s most dangerous attacker and James Reimer is on a personal five game win streak.
1. On Mike Brown’s departure – yes, it made sense from a team management perspective. Brown’s penalty killing: brave but not necessarily the best. He is less suited for the role of a fourth line zero-minute duster than the likes of McClaren or Orr. He’s more of a bottom six/top six player than a top nine/bottom three. That being said, you are never 100% happy to trade away a hard working, true-blue Maple Leaf.
James Reimer talked to Devil’s color guy Chico Resch today, telling him that yes, the physical edge their big guys provide gives the whole team some palpatable swagger. Mike Brown and his fearsome moustache was great inspiration material in this respect and will definitely continue to be so out west.
2. Surprise surprise, Toronto’s first goal tonight was more of Kadri making goals out of nothing – literally, for this lucky bouncer of a tally. Still, there was some slick puck moving on that shift leading up to the goal and throughout the night. This line continues to be a threat due in large part to the creativity of Nazem. The Leafs are going to look dangerous very soon as Kadri’s wings could feature a combination of Matt Frattin and one of Lupul/JVR in the near future.
3. That being said, it is an unfortunate foregone conclusion from the perspective of Clarke MacArthur. Having a brief stint on the fourth line earlier this season shows how MacArthur has been an oddly fitting piece of the lineup. But he’s a back to back twenty goal scorer that makes a difference offensively – when his confidence is high. He’s appeared to find a groove with the space that Kadri has made for him, but may have to make it work again with the likes of Grabovski in short order.
4. With these healthy bodies comes some tough lineup decisions as, reports have indicated that Toronto is shopping John Michael Liles. Liles brings an element of puck movement and powerplay aptitude that is noticeable whenever he is in the lineup. However, a combination of his age, contract and similarity in role to Jake Gardiner may have sealed his fate in Toronto.
5. If you’re going to have a fourth line that only sees/is capable of a few minutes a night, you better pray that they don’t burn you defensively. Orr and company were lit up twice in the second period, both times on clear defensive gaffes and general awkwardness.
6. People have talked about Grabovski’s offensive struggles, others have answered with fingers pointed at the heavy defensive load placed on his shoulders, one that he lifts with aplomb. The most important factor in getting Mikhail back on track offensively? His linemates. McClement is fast and great defensively, but contributes very little in terms of creativity or goal scoring. One of Lupul, JVR or Clarke MacArthur will be taking that spot, hopefully giving Grabovski some more options where he desperately needs them. There were moments in this game where Grabovski danced and flew past New Jersey players, and others where he looked like he just knew nothing would happen offensively. The work ethic or talent is never at question with Grabovski, so it’s just a matter of time and circumstance.
7. Of course, McClement did score a goal tonight after forcing a turnover and speeding to the net. It may not have been gorgeous, but that is the type of utility the center was brought here to provide. However, it would be better served coming in a fourth line role while continuing to see his normal heavy PK minutes.
8. Phil Kessel had a few of his standard chances with distance-wristers from the boards to start this game. But then he finished a sweet JVR feed with expertise in the third and his struggles were forgotten. It shows the dynamic that a skilled setup man can have on Kessel’s game (Lupul is missed here). He’s as good a finisher as you’ll find in the league.
9. The team’s play has been underwhelming in the past few games. While it’s a treat to once again see how good goaltending can buoy you in times of trouble, it’s crucial that Toronto rounds out their rough edges as the second half of this campaign gets underway.
10. A solid game from James Reimer saw some luck go his way (two posts) and moments of brilliance (stoning Elias in the third). You just hope that good health and fortune lie in the future of James Reimer, as he could truly establish his position as a respected starting tender in the league with a strong second half of this season.
Toronto gets a day of rest before kicking off a back-to-back set with Ottawa and Boston. Two division rivals. Two playoff spot competitors. These games become more important as the Leafs focus on pulling away from the pack and solidfying their playoff position in the coming weeks.