Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. New Jersey Devils

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Welcome to the 2014-15 season opener! After an off-season that felt like forever, Leafs hockey is back…. (*checks the ridiculous schedule, realizes it’s still 2013*).

Before James van Riemsdyk played his first game as a Maple Leaf, Leafs fans were salivating at the prospect of dropping the big winger into the center ice position next to Phil Kessel. That was after the recently-hired Randy Carlyle got an early lesson on how even the most innocent offhanded comment (like maybe trying JvR at center, at some point) can spark a wildfire in this market.  It never happened, but fans were nonetheless awe struck by the big man’s talent, the chemistry he formed with Kessel, the dynamism of that duo once Lupul went down to injury,  and most of all that Brian Burke had acquired him in a one-for-one trade for Luke Schenn. This was before we learned Kessel and Bozak were going to be attached at the hip under Carlyle as they were under Wilson.

Tonight, with Bozak and Bolland on the shelf, we’ll get to see how that will look as Carlyle has been forced to convert a piece of their wing depth in hopes of shoring up the middle.  JvR will play next to Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel on a top line that looks fantastic on paper from the offensive standpoint. The issue might be that JvR isn’t being supplemented with much in the way of defensive ability on his wings. This line can do damage on attack and not much will change for JvR once over the offensive blueline, but the questions for the Leafs’ newfangled topline will be: How will they fare in defensive zone coverage, and will they be able to get out of their own zone effectively?

JvR’s extra gear is what makes him at least an option at center. Not that he was ever slow, but he gets up and down the ice that much quicker this season and it should help him as he tries to get this whole center thing down. Size, speed and high end skill at the 1C position is a tantalizing prospect, but the obvious issue is that JvR hasn’t played the position at the NHL level. Playing there all the way through college won’t not help, but the mental aspect of the position and the small details are what will be the challenge; faceoffs, supporting down low defensively, tying up the man in the slot, being the wheel in the breakout, etc. It’s going to be an interesting experiment to keep an eye tonight.

The other interesting experiment is going to be the second line of Kadri, Raymond and Clarkson.  One point in five games is not the start David Clarkson was looking to get off to, but the manner in which he’s been bumped around the lineup, with rotating linemates, and Carlyle’s reliance on him in a more defensive role against tough competition, has only added to his already disrupted start given his suspension. The original vision was for Kadri to play next to Clarkson and Lupul on a line that could exploit middling competition, but for a variety of reasons we haven’t seen Kadri and Clarkson together yet. Clarkson, of course, will  be looking to make a statement against his former team. It’s not hard to picture Clarkson being fired up for a night when his former club comes into his new home for the next seven years; he’ll want to prove the Leafs weren’t off their rocker in handing him that contract, and that the struggling Devils shouldn’t have let him walk.

In other storylines, Jerred Smithson will debut for the Leafs on a line with Orr and McLaren.  Rounding out the lines, Kulemin, Bodie and McClement will seemingly represent a makeshift shutdown line for Carlyle. We have seen Carlyle go with some head-to-head, strength-on-strength matchups this season, but it will depend on how the top line looks in the early going (defensively, how JvR is faring in the faceoff circle, and so on).

On defence, Rielly is expected to sit (there were some murmurs of 7D, but latest indication is that he’ll be scratched) to make way for Mark Fraser on the left side. Fraser will play with Ranger, while the Gardiner-Franson pairing is back for the first time this season.

In net, Jonathan Bernier will start, while tomorrow Reimer will get his first crack at the Bruins since.. nevermind.

The struggles of last season have not let up for the Devils in the early going, as they just haven’t been able to score enough since losing Zach Parise and now Clarkson and Kovalchuk (Jagr has helped with 11 points, but the Devils are below 2 goals a game). Peter DeBoer could find himself on the outs soon if something doesn’t turn around, this only a short few years since the Devils were in the Stanley Cup Finals and playing greater than the sum of their parts. The Devils were a great forechecking team in that playoff run and played a high-pressure system that thrived on turnovers; they seem slower from what I’ve seen, have put in some pretty uninspired performances, and obviously are down three of their best scorers from past seasons. They’re actually below the Leafs in shots per game as well. Goaltending hasn’t been as good as the talent would indicate, as Cory Schneider and Martin Brodeur are in the low .900 despite the Devils allowing only 24.5 shots a game (2nd best in the league).

With all the rest time, the Leafs will have no excuse to be flat, unless you think the pregame ceremonies are the cause of slow starts (apparently there will be a lengthy one). The biggest challenge will be trying to mesh with so much of the lineup in flux.

 LeafsDevils
Record10-5-04-7-4
GF/G3.13 (7th)1.93 (27th)
GA/G2.40 (8th)2.60 (15th)
SF/G26.1 (28th)25.1 (29th)
SA/G36.8 (29th)24.5 (2nd)
PP23.5% (5th)17.0% (18th)
PK87.1% (4th)84.1% (12th)
5 on 5 F/A1.12 (12th)0.63 (27th)
Sh%12.0% (t-1st)7.7% (23rd)
Sv%93.5% (3rd)89.4% (27th)
FO%45.0% (27th)44.0% (30th)
  • Ryan

    https://twitter.com/markhmastershttps://twitter.com/markhmasters/status/398909719735062528
    It’s Toronto’s last home game before Remembrance Day so Amazing Grace & a moment of silence also on the pre-game schedule

  • Ze_theLeafsFan

    CanuckUKinToronto I am always scared to say we should win this game…. especially after 5 days of no hockey and a long pre-game ceremony

  • Xxxxxnew

    NJ’s allowed an average of 21 shots against per game so I hope they don’t lull us to sleep.

  • Tim Horton

    CanuckUKinToronto waiting by the mailbox for their new shirts…

  • Alec Brownscombe

    Xxxxxnew I’m seeing 24.5, but yeah, point remains. That’s 2nd best in the league.

  • Leafs rule

    It’s going to be an interesting experiment to keep an eye tonight. oh u r right Alec ,Go Leafs Go ,hoping JVR Kessel and Loops keep me/us awake with lots of goals

  • B_Leaf

    Gonna miss the game but I will PVR it and check in afterwards. 
    Watching good games on PVR are tough on my nerves… 60 minutes of straight action.

  • Leafs rule

    CanuckUKinToronto lol right here waiting impatiently

  • Xxxxxnew

    Prob right. I was checking it out about 10 days ago.

  • lieffan

    Thanks for the post, this is a very beatable team and the Leafs need to be hungry. Badly want JVR to kill it at center and suddenly we had our # 1 center on the wing the whole damn time!

    Pregame ceremonies are an excuse, it’s that way for both teams

  • lieffan

    By the way I was kidding about thinking JVR is going to be a center permanently. No one kill me

  • Xxxxxnew

    Carlyle from Brophy’s column today
    “Because of his contract situation, Carlyle didn’t need to jump at the first job tossed his way. So when his old pal (and GM with Anaheim) Brian Burke came calling about the coaching position with the Maple Leafs, Carlyle had some reservations. Toronto, for the most part, has been a burial ground for coaches since its last Stanley Cup championship way back in 1967.
    “I told Burkie I really didn’t know if I wanted to take this job or where my head was at it and he said to write every question I had down,” Carlyle said. “He wanted me to get on a flight to meet him in Boston, so I did that. On the flight I wrote down every question I had and I went through them. He was kind of shocked at the number of questions that I had, but I said, ‘That’s what you told me to do and I spent five hours doing it.’ I wanted to make sure we discussed everything I felt was pertinent to the job.
    He said, ‘It doesn’t really sound like you want the job,’ and I said, ‘You told me to write down my questions and now you’re giving me hell for asking so many. I’m doing what you asked for and now you don’t like it (laughing).’ That’s the kind of relationship I had with Brian.”
    Many of the questions Carlyle had for Burke before accepting the job had to do with dealing with the media.
    “It’s intense,” Carlyle said. “There is a lot more responsibility in terms of the media demands. I think that is one-third of my job. Some days you like doing it and some days you don’t. But that’s part of your responsibility.

  • WendelGilmour

    I really hope the JVR plan works, but I’m not big on it.

  • lieffan

    WendelGilmour Defensively nightmarish?

  • WendelGilmour

    @lieffan WendelGilmour Not due to any lack of skill, or effort on JVR’s part, but that’s a lot to ask of someone who hasn’t played C at this level. I am afraid RC is going to play these guys to death trying to get them going.

  • Xxxxxnew

    I was checking that out too and leafs have averaged around 36 shots against per game. As of last week there were 18 teams averaging between 30-36 against.

  • lieffan

    WendelGilmour Really? That’s one fear I don’t have
    If anything Carlyle will get pissed at them and play Smithson to death

  • Alec Brownscombe

    Xxxxxnew All this info is in the table above

  • 17Forever

    Xxxxxnew 
    Ya, Read that. Good interview. Loved that it came a day after RC had some probs with one reporter. Regarding the Hazing questions, you could tell that pissed him right off. Anybody know who that was by the way ?

  • Black_Hawk

    Hope JVR can become a true number one C for us that we desperately crave for but im jus hoping for a stop gap solution till our centers get healthy.

  • Dan39

    Black_Hawk Also makes a scoring-hole on the second line wing.

  • WendelGilmour

    @lieffan WendelGilmour Regardless of how the “top line” plays on any given night RC keeps throwing them over the boards. He has patience for that line. We’ll see.

  • 17Forever

    @lieffan WendelGilmour 
    I could see Kuli jump up to that line mid game to help on the defensive side, but my guess is they stick with JVR a center for awhile .. you can’t throw the kid in the deep end and abandon him there. Be hard on his confidence for sure.

  • Dangle_My_Berries

    ITS GAME DAY! LETS GO BOYS LETS GET THE W

  • Alec Brownscombe

    @lieffan Feel the same re: ceremonies. They drag on way too long some times, but it goes both ways.

  • wiski

    https://twitter.com/runaroundkidhttps://twitter.com/runaroundkid/status/398937238513283072
    We need to talk about this photo of Reimer posing with a plush doll of himself http://t.co/4UcrXV8Wbi

  • Alec Brownscombe

    wiski The doll exaggerates his ginger-ness.

  • Dangle_My_Berries

    Alec Brownscombe wiski doll has too much ginger, the smile is bang on now

  • Alec Brownscombe

    Dangle_My_Berries Alec Brownscombe wiski The doll also doesn’t play goalie, apparently.

  • JWaterdrager

    Alec Brownscombe Can’t they do the ceremonies pre game time? Schedule says 7 puck drop, not starting of ceremonies. It is like they force us to watch them, I hate that. It’s like communist russia.

  • Dangle_My_Berries

    Alec Brownscombe Dangle_My_Berries wiski ….whoever made this Doll doesn’t have a clue lol

  • wiski

    Alec Brownscombe wiski Looks like they converted him to center also. 😉

  • Alec Brownscombe

    JWaterdrager Alec Brownscombe That’s maybe a bit dramatic. lol.

  • Burtonboy

    https://twitter.com/DarrenDregerhttps://twitter.com/DarrenDreger/status/398938415841832960
    Orr is a gametime decision (injury). If he can’t go, sounds like the Leafs will dress 7 D which means Rielly draws back in. https://twitter.com/search?q=%23TSN&src=hash

  • Leafs rule

    Dangle_My_Berries Alec Brownscombe wiski  I agrre and what about a ,more snarl ?

  • wiski

    Burtonboy https://twitter.com/Hope_Smokehttps://twitter.com/Hope_Smoke/status/398939640834826242
    Whoa, Steve Simmons just said Colton Orr should be a game-time decision every night: “his whole career is a game-time decision”

  • Alec Brownscombe

    Burtonboy 7 D is a weird concept to me, but provided it can be managed we’re better off with Rielly in there.

  • Leafs rule

    Burtonboy Hoping Orr plays tomorrow anyways

  • JWaterdrager

    Alec Brownscombe JWaterdrager haha yes it is, what’s the ceremony about tonight?

  • Bring the Cup Home

    okay…..two points i want to make:

    1.  rielly is better than ranger.  he should be playing in my mind.  we should ice:
    gunnar – dion
    gardiner – franson
    rielly – fraser

    2.  clarkson needs to start producing during this tough stretch.  he shouldn’t press too hard i know, but he does need to produce the odd big goal that wins us a hockey game or two while we weather this injury storm.

  • JMAC17

    Burtonboy You think they will rotate 7 d or play one as a forward?

  • Black_Hawk

    Alec Brownscombe Burtonboy not a fan either

  • LeafsForLife

    A week without Leafs hockey. Didnt realize how much that would suck till it happened ugh.
    Looking forward to having Kadri and Clarkson together, to having Fraser back in the line-up, to seeing JVR at centre, and to see this Smithson banging and playing. Lots to look forward to for sure.
    GO LEAFS GO!!!

  • Tim Horton

    I may be crazy but I think converting from wing to centre, even in the NHL, is easier than people think, other than face offs, which can be difficult if your not well practiced. An NHL caliber player should not have trouble learning new responsibilities.

  • Burtonboy

    JMAC17 Burtonboy Jake is the only one on that backend that has played wing in the NHL that I know for

  • Black_Hawk

    LeafsForLife lol where were you during the lock out?

  • wiski

    Clarkson must be pumped for tonight.

  • LeafsForLife

    Black_Hawk LeafsForLife hibernating

  • Black_Hawk

    wiski I think more nervous

  • Black_Hawk

    LeafsForLife Black_Hawk LOL