The new look Leafs will play host to the red-hot New Jersey Devils tonight in a match-up of surging cellar dwellers.Â Both teams are well out of the playoff picture as of now (the Leafs sit 8 points out, the Devils 15), yet both teams are also coming into tonightâ€™s contest with 2 consecutive wins.Â The Leafs are also on a longer hot streak of 4 â€“ 1 â€“ 0 in their last 5.
Incredibly, the Devils have gone 8 â€“ 1 â€“ 1 in their last ten.Â Those 8 wins account for 40% of their wins through 54 games. Magically (or so it seems) all the problems in New Jersey â€“ From the coach getting canned to Kovalchuk getting benched to Brodeurâ€™s meteoric fall to mediocrity â€“ were solely Jamie Langenbrunnerâ€™s fault.
Tale of the Tape
Leafs: 23-25-5 (12th in the east)
Devils: 20-30-4 (13th in the east)
Leafs: 143 (23rd)
Devils: 116 (30th)
Leafs: 169 (24th)
Devils 156 (18th)
Leafs:Â 17% (T-20th)
Devils:Â 14.2% (27th)
Leafs:Â 76.7% (28th)
Devils:Â 82.2% (15th)
– Tonight marks Joffery Lupulâ€™s first game for Toronto.Â Heâ€™ll be skating on a line with Clarke MacArthur and Tyler Bozak.Â I believe it will be Bozak who is the ultimate beneficiary of this assignment.Â The sophomore forward has been progressing defensively this season while his offensive game has suffered.Â Hopefully these new line mates will improve his production down the stretch.
– With Marty Brodeur resting his aching knee, Johan Hedberg is likely to start tonight for the Devils while James Reimer will make the start in goal for the Leafs.Â The shine is starting to come off a little bit for the rookie goalie.Â Heâ€™s had a lot of help offensively in the vast majority of his starts, so it will be interesting to see how well he’ll do in what is likely to be a low scoring affair.
– Videogames, insiders and vapid talking heads all claim that defense wins championships. Itâ€™s fair to say that the loss of Francois Beauchemin will be felt on the ice.Â Regularly facing top lines and playing 23+ minutes, the hole created by Beaucheminâ€™s departure will be a big â€“ and telling â€“ one.Â For all his detractors, he ate up important minutes and is third in the league with 131 blocked shots while also averaging just less than 2 minutes of PP time and 3 of PK time per game.
With Schenn, Kaberle and Phaneuf regularly seeing 22 or more minutes a night, thereâ€™s only so much more they can be used.Â The balance of Beaucheminâ€™s minutes will have to be distributed between Komisarek, Gunnarsson, Lebda and the recently called up Keith Aulie.Â This likely results in increased powerplay time for Gunnarsson, increased PK time for Komisarek (who has actually looked like an NHL defender in recent games) and hopefully no more playing time for Lebda.
– Yesterdayâ€™s trade is about to test the mettle of Brian Burkeâ€™s earlier trades as Aulie partnered up with Dion Phaneuf during practice.Â Both were brought over on January 30th 2010, but thereâ€™s more to the line-up change than the symbolism.Â Phaneuf will now have to acclimate to a new, green partner, while Aulie will have to re-acclimate to the speed and strength of the NHL game.Â Though they are listed together, itâ€™s unreasonable to expect Aulie to see ice time north of 18 minutes.
All that said, Aulieâ€™s play was commendable when he was called up during Phaneufâ€™s injury in November.Â Though his stat line of 0 pts and a -5 in 12 games would initially suggest otherwise, the November era leafs were a listless and leaderless bunch with Phaneuf, Armstrong and Giguere out with various injuries.Â He could stand to be more physical, but he uses his positioning, reach and deceptively good foot speed effectively in the defensive zone.
– Incidental to Aulieâ€™s call up, John Mitchell cleared waivers today and has been assigned to the Toronto Marlies.Â If I were one of the 29 other GMs in the league, Iâ€™d have passed too.
Dramatic Plotline of the Day:
– With the trade of Frank the tank, Tomas Kaberle will once again become an Alternate captain.Â I thought the play of Luke Schenn or Colby Armstrong could have warranted some extra stitching, but at least this move implicitly answers a tired question.Â Iâ€™m reading into the Tea Leaves here a bit, but it can be safe to assume that Kaberle wonâ€™t be getting moved before the February 28th trade deadline.Â It doesnâ€™t make sense to sew the letter back on for about 8 games before shipping him out.Â So hopefully that conversation can finally be put to bed.
Final Thought and a Quote:
– Thank god the game is on TSN tonight.Â No matter whoâ€™s calling it in either the booth or the studio, we wonâ€™t be subject to Doug MacLeanâ€™s commentary.Â The former Columbus Blue Jackets and Florida Panthers coach had this to say about Phil Kesselâ€™s play to assist on Nik Kuleminâ€™s third period goal in Tuesdayâ€™s game in Long Island:
â€œBeat off a guy! Beat off a guy!â€
Iâ€™m totally taking this out of context (Kessel stiff armed an Islander d-man in a fight for the puck prior to passing to a streaking Kulemin), but I mean reallyâ€¦Kids are watching.
Enjoy the game tonight, ladies and gents.