Tonight’s game offered the second of the three seasonal meetings between these two teams. The Leafs were without Joffrey Lupul and they had to get the job done against a team that could creep up to a playoff spot with a win tonight, a Stanley Cup finalist from last year. Komarov and MacArthur made their return and it made things a little bit easier while the Devils are struggling to score without Kovalchuk. Fraser McLaren was scratched because the Devils require less face-punching or something like that.
1) The Leafs are 21-13-4 and rarely do you play an entire game on your heels and end up taking two points. This is exactly what happened tonight. Phiew. I still don’t want to say the word but we’re getting closer.
2) Reimer was there to make some solid saves early on and Komarov put the Leafs on the board with a very good deflection off a blueline pass from Fraser, giving him +15 on the season. Jake Gardiner left the game but returned later on, no worse for wear.
3) The PK once again held the fort early in the middle of the first after a holding call on Fraser but the Devils kept the momentum with a great couple of shifts. 11 shots taken by the Devils during 12 mins of play in the opening period suggests that the boys played a big chunk of it on their heels, even more so with a late Devil 5 on 3 PP. Jay McClement did a lion’s share of penalty killing on the boards.
4) The Leafs got their first powerplay late in the 1st, Steve Sullivan was wrongly called for slashing but you take what you get. The post was hit with the buzzer going off, but a goal was not scored. The period ended with 9 EV strength shots on goal for each team but the quality of chances and puck possession favored New Jersey.
5) The PK continued going strong in the middle of the third which was immediately followed up by a Leafs PP when Kadri got tripped by Fayne. 0 for 2 soon turned to 0 for 3 on the man advantage on the night. Chances were there, but Brodeur scrambled, as he often does, and kept them in it. In what was basically a playoff game, you have to use what the other team gives you. The Leafs were really lucky it didn’t cost them tonight.
6) Speaking of playoff type games, James Reimer looked really solid in an important W, positionally sound, didn’t give up many rebounds. It was the best possible way to justify
Luongo’s crazy contract confidence which Nonis and the rest of the staff showed in him by standing pat as far as goalie deadline deals go. The shots stood 18-13 in favor of the Devils at the end of the second.
7) Kessel seemed to have trouble handling the puck tonight. There were a couple of instances where he could have gotten a good shot off had he controlled the puck better but coughed it up or shot it from a worse angle because of it.
8) Buds started the 3rd with a very good positional save from Reimer and then created some chances with McLement hitting the post. It didn’t last. The whole game was dictated by the Devils and it continued for most of the third. What the Leafs did well in that period was keeping the Devils to the outside and withstanding late game pressure, an area in which they crumbled in recent years.
9) Despite this, Tyler Bozak scored a HUGE insurance marker 12 mins from time, off a beauty Kessel pass. Again, it was lady luck that pushed/lobbed that puck past Brodeur, but as a Leafs fan, it was about time we had some. Lucky, because shortly after Clarkson receives a feed from Zidlicky and puts one past Reimer to make it a one goal hockey game. Towards the end, the PK came up big again, shutting the doors for the last 30 seconds of the hockey game.
10) Despite the two points and an away game, this wasn’t a good one. For the most part, the Devils dominated play. The Leafs struggled to find their legs and match New Jersey’s intensity. The PP was 0 for 4 and couldn’t capitalize in key moments. This isn’t the time of the year where it should be tough to find that intensity, but as fans, we’ll take these two regulation points any day. There were positives, such as the PK, Reimer and the solid defensive play in the third, but they need to be better going forward.