A decrepit and depleted Devils squad trotting into the Air Canada Centre with the Leafs on a roll? A classic trap game that ended in a 5-3 loss for the home team.

The state of the Devils coming into this one was almost comical. Elias, Jagr and Larsson injured. Schneider set to play 80 games this season. Dainus Zubrus mistakenly laying the body on Damien Brunner. It’s likely these thoughts were also humouring the de facto top line in Toronto as Kessel, Bozak and JVR never truly got into this game.

With Bozak and co. hemmed into their own end 4 minutes into the first by the Henrique line, Franson took a penalty clearing the crease. Shortly therafter, a Gelinas wrister through a few bodies deflected off Trevor Smith to give New Jersey an early lead.

A few minutes after the goal, the corpse of Scott Gomez sent a pass across the ice to Brunner, forcing Bernier to make an excellent lateral- extension save. Just thirty seconds later Brunner got another golden opportunity in the slot only to be robbed by Bernier once again as the Toronto starter bailed out his club in the early goings.

Both the Holland and Kadri lines had much more jump and offensive pressure than the Bozak trio in the first. Kadri’s line attacks with speed, puck skills and pure talent. Holland, flanked by Winnik and Clarkson, create their pressure through puck retrieval, tenacity and solid two-way play to give the Leafs lines with dynamics
that are noticeably different than that of the rush attack of the first line.

Partway through the second, the Kadri line had yet another solid shift deep in the opponent’s end. Gardiner found Lupul whose quick shot was deflected by Santorelli for the tying marker.  Unfortunately, Booth-Holland-Clarkson were out for a shift less than three minutes later when Stephen Gionta beat Robidas to the middle of the ice to finish off a quick pass for the go-ahead goal.

Santorelli continued to show his versatility as a rush up the wing on the penalty kill with Kadri resulted in a shorthanded marker to tie the game again at 2-2. The next Devils powerplay did not go as well for the Leafs, as a Gelinas shot bounced off the boards to Cammaleri who quickly buried the puck for his eleventh of the season.

Hopes of a comeback would be further dimmed by another poor defensive-zone showing by the Bozak line, resulting in Steve Bernier netting the Devils their fourth goal of the game. It was certainly a night to forget for Bert, Ernie and JVR. A Henrique goal added salt to a wound that will ideally remind this young squad that no squad should be taken lightly in the NHL (a late Kessel powerplay goal notwithstanding).

Other than the more salient issues of this team in recent years (the swarm, defensively questionable top players, etc.), consistency has been the biggest hindrance in the development of this iteration of the Leafs.

It is virtually a given that a collection of young adults will waver in their daily level of effort and concentration in any area of life. It is perhaps even more applicable with young millionaire adults that are stars in a city that feverishly follow their every move.

For this reason, teammates that exemplify extreme work ethic and competitiveness (read: Santorelli,
Komarov, Winnik, Robidas) are as much a boon to the development of this young squad as the supremely talented Kessel, Van Riemsdyk and Kadri.

“Leadership” is a term that is probably bandied around too much in hockey. Yet it has a simple application when you are sitting on the bench beside a guy that gives it his all every shift, every situation. It is inspirational. It is a necessary foundation to the consistency which has eluded this Leafs teams in recent years. Games likes tonight’s serve as lessons for these Maple Leafs. Hopefully they learn from them.

Shot Location Chart

leafs-devils-shot chart



Possession Chartleafs-devils-possession

Player Notes

Holland – started off strong tonight, taking three of the Leafs first six shots. Continues to play a good two way game, exemplified by following up a takeaway in his own end, by re-retrieving the puck in the offensive zone with a quick forecheck.

Rielly – had some decisive rushes that lead to good chances early on. His noticeable drive to increase his shot totals will serve him well. However, not currently getting enough ice (16:49 tonight) to make a large impact.

Gardiner – contrary to Rielly, had a number of indecisive moments where the puck seemed to be moving faster than his decision making. Thought about making a strong defensive check against Sislo in the first but ended up whiffing on the hit, leading to a good Devils chance. Makes great plays offensive by thinking less and acting on his instincts. Like many young offensive defensemen before him, his defensive instincts will continue to take time to mature.

Santorelli – incredible work ethic, skating, and can keep up with Kadri in many respects. Uses his good hockey sense to get in the right position and has proven to be a force along the boards and on the penalty kill.

Kadri – The best center on this Leafs roster is starting to see the points come his way. 1 goal, 3 shots and a hit in 18:38 of ice time tonight. His shorthanded goal to bring the Leafs into a tie was a direct result of him heading straight to the net with no hesitation.

Smith – caught in no man’s land on the first powerplay goal against. Smith then again looked lost on the Steve Bernier chance late in the first. He does have bursts of speed, but he is not effective enough to warrant keeping him on this roster when Komarov returns from injury.

Winnik – a wonderful mix of strong defensive plays and smart but simple offensive prowess. A force on the penalty kill that (thus far) easily warrants a new contract with this club going forward.

Kessel – off his game tonight. Weak dangle attempts, not engaged, and a clip during tonight’s broadcast showed him stretching during practices in a manner that is suggestive of lingering pain or discomfort. Netted a powerplay goal in the dying moments but deserving of the reduced ice time he and his running mates saw for the latter half of the game.

Robidas – Was simply outraced on the second goal by Gionta. Redeemed himself with a savvy stand-in on the shorthanded tally by Kadri. Has been coming on lately, but it appears that the physical aspects of Stephane’s game are diminished (speed, force of his hitting and shooting). However, this is somewhat countered by his consistent veteran decision making. This, alongside his work ethic, will ideally serve as an example for Gardiner, Rielly, Percy and the other young blueliners of this franchise.

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4C. FransonD0000404-2:371:1322:44
12S. RobidasD0110015-0:001:3115:55
18R. PanikR0000001-0:000:009:24
19J. LupulL0110223-1:080:0016:04
20D. BoothL000-1004-0:000:0010:13
21J. van RiemsdykL011-1030-2:210:4516:55
23T. SmithC000000270%0:001:0510:28
24P. HollandC000-103162%0:002:3616:23
25M. SantorelliC1122030100%1:080:1116:52
26D. WinnikC00000310%0:003:1916:29
42T. BozakC011-101361%2:210:4316:08
43N. KadriC101103162%2:210:1118:38
44M. RiellyD000-2023-0:000:4516:46
51J. GardinerD0110010-1:080:2121:39
55K. HolzerD0000025-0:002:2718:45
71D. ClarksonR000-2031-1:080:0014:52
81P. KesselR101-1040-2:210:0016:10
45J. Bernier (L) 9-6-319 - 2204-Feb0 - 021 - 260.808057:31:00