Game in 10: Game 28, Devils at Leafs


    Tonight marked James Reimer’s first game back at the ACC, and maybe he’d have preferred the comforts of the pressbox as a shaky start and finish sunk the Leafs.  In his first appearance at the ACC since October 19th, Reimer had an off night and a 50/50 penalty kill led to your Toronto Maple Leafs losing 3 – 2 in overtime to the New Jersey Devils.

    1 – The Leafs are 15 – 10 – 3 and that’s still pretty darned good, but I think everyone feels a little cheated that the Leafs couldn’t muster up more against a middling Eastern Conference opponent.

    2 – The Buds were fighting the puck all night, no two ways about it.  They looked absolutely awful at controlling the puck all night. Making or receiving passes seemed a nigh impossibility regardless of the distance.  Players regularly had to stop and turn around to play a puck; their stationary, static positioning eliminated their speed out of the zone.  While they managed to limit mistakes with the puck in the final 40 minutes of regulation, Carl Gunnarsson’s fanned shot in overtime led to David Clarkson’s (get ready to hear that name frequently) game winning goal.

    3 – The natural consequence of a lack of passing ability/puck control is turnovers, and the boys in blue were guilty of a tonne of them tonight.  On a night where every line kept coughing up the biscuit, they allowed a weaker Devils team to take command of the pace of the game and were chasing New Jersey all night.  Especially egregious was former 30 goal scorer Nikolai Kulemin’s giveaway to David Clarkson with just less than 4 minutes to play in the 3rd period.  Clarkson had all the time in the world in behind the defense and could have ended the game, if not for a tremendous save by James Reimer.  Chalk it up to two games in two nights; chalk it up to Peter DeBoer’s choking defensive pressure, whatever.  The Leafs have to have to have to be better at possessing the puck.

    4 – When you lose the puck and when you don’t have the puck, you end up chasing. When you chase, you end up taking penalties.  And the Leafs PK was bad tonight, it nearly cost the Buds the game.  Reimer would definitely want Ilya Kovalchuk’s goal back, but was left completely out to dry on the second power play goal by Clarkson.  Reimer read wrong on the play, but the 4 man unit in front of him got spread out too thin by the Devils excellent passing and gave him no support.  How Clarkson was able to get open in front of Reimer 3 separate times tonight is nothing short of baffling.

    5 – Another game, another first period hole to climb out of.  I know, I know, back-to-back games, in two cities, with an injury depleted line-up.  But the good teams in this league (Boston, e.g.) won’t let the Leafs back into games.  The Leafs are playing with fire if they thing they can regularly earn points playing rope-a-dope hockey.  All things considered, the club was lucky to get the consolation point.

    6 – Phil Kessel needed a goal badly, having not scored in the previous six games.  It was an ugly one, it was almost called back (and would have been had the puck bounced off his left boot).  But it counted, and it’s just the kind of fortuitous bounce this guy and this team has had all season long.  The initial play by Joffrey Lupul to drive hard to the net was a terrific example of what a power forward should do.  Sometimes I wonder if Kessel is making Lupul’s season or vice versa.  Again tonight Lupul was the best Leaf forward out there, and I’m sure everyone – Phil especially – held their breath when No. 19 took that knee on knee hit.

    7 – Mikhail Grabovski only had 15:19 in ice time tonight, despite another strong game from the proud papa.  Nik Kulemin played fewer minutes than call ups Joe Colborne, Joey Crabb and Matt Frattin as he continues to struggle with and without the puck.  Kulemin is on pace for 6 goals this season, is in the midst of a 21-game goal drought

    8 – “Man strength in the corners” Matt Frattin tied the game up early in the third on a bullet shot that eluded Marty Brodeur’s multimillion dollar glove hand.  The native of Edmonton saw more ice in the third period, and had a tremendous second chance later in the period after shaking off a Devil’s defender in behind the net.  He’s a player, that’s for sure, and he’s steadily improved as the season has progressed.  With the ever growing infirmary in Toronto, he’ll have a stay of execution from Ron Wilson.  But I’ll give him credit; he’s proved to me that he belongs in the ACC more than the Ricoh.

    9 – Luke Schenn has responded to his benching in November like a consummate professional, and since then has played like the old Luke Schenn.  He earned a secondary assist on Kessel’s goal and registered an insane 10 hits.  He finished the night with just under 24 minutes of ice time and made his presence felt viscerally on every shift.

    10 –   I’ll take the point, but this was not a great showing by your Toronto Maple Leafs tonight.  This team is still a work in progress, and still hasn’t mastered the 60 minute game.  Secondary scoring remains a problem, and heaven help us if Lupul or Clarke MacArthur is out for any extended period of time.  The Leafs will be back at it again on Friday against the still slumping Washington Capitals.