Leafs 6 v. Devils 7 (SO): Dancing with the Devil
The Leafs came up against the Team That Lou Built (shadily) and Mr. Dithers and proceeded to play them off the rink. A relentless forecheck caused the Devils defence to repeatedly cough up the puck. The stone-handed Leafs scored 5 even strength goals on their way to a 6-3 lead after 40 minutes. Maurice's charges had such an easy time that the Leafs decided to honour hockey's shinny roots by giving the Devils 3 goals and going right to a next goal wins overtime period. I was on the phone so I am pretty sure that explains why the Devils won this game and my dad was questioning the manhood of the team in Spanish.
Unfortunately, I am being facetious and I did see that trainwreck of a third period. Call it a study in how to lose a hockey game. The Leafs were repeatedly caught running around their zone. This actually happened throughout the game. The Leafs would blow a chance to clear the zone and the ensuing panic would invariably result in, first, my dad saying 'they are going to score, here comes the goal' and, second, a goal. The team also took some bad penalties (Update: Chris Young tallies who drew the penalties and their result. It is definitely an interesting stat to follow)and were then unable to kill them off. And last year's magic seems to have abandond JS Aubin as he had the kind of third period that almost makes you want to see Telly in net. Almost. He let in three straight Brian Gionta (HE SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ABLE TO SIGN LOU!) shots through the wickets. It could have been worse but just barely. However, you will read enough about how this ONE bad period speaks volumes about what Leafs' fans will have to face this year.
So in order to save us from the doomsday predictions and Chicken Little ranting and raving that will serve to crush any hope that has built up over the past three contests (I am looking at you Cox) here are some reasons to smile today.
5 Reasons to believe that we will not need tee times come April 8th
- Jeff O'Neill has continued to improve. Anyone that has read this page religiously (thanks Dad!) knows that I am the President and Founder of his fan club. His improvement has come in baby steps with tonight being his best performance of this young season. He continues to get into good shooting positions and buried a power play goal with the kind of quick release that saw him tally 41 goals in Carolina. Baby steps would be describe his improvement but it has been a one way path and each step gets him closer to the player that Toronto thought that they were getting.
- The Leafs now have three lines going strong. The forwards have been a work in progress this pre-season and in this season's early stages. First, the Kilger-Peca-Steen line clicked, then the Wellwood-Sundin-Tucker was formed. Tonight saw the emergence of our third line of Ponikarovsky-Stajan-O'Neill. They accounted for four of the six goals and created a handful of other chances (Does anyone have a chisel for Poni Stone-Hands?). All three lines are capable of playing Maurice's high tempo, hard forechecking game and creating and finishing scoring chances.
- We have Andrew Raycroft for the game Saturday night against the Flames. If we had not traded for the rejuvenated goaltender then we would have had to start Telly. I think we can all agree that that is a lot less appealing than it seemed over the summer.
- Paul Maurice's changes have made an incredible difference on the team. The 2-1-2 forecheck is causing opposition defenders headaches. The team's work ethic is reminiscent of the teams that were successful in last year's playoffs. The defence has dealt with pressure much better than last year and have shown a willingness and ability to jump into the play. Granted, these things are clearly not evident all of the time but they have been frequently and that is more than can be said for last year. Once the team's consistency is improved they will be a 'tough' team to play against. When was the last time anyone said that about the Leafs?
Not to mention that he will be incensed with the third period AND will do something about it. So often in the past Pat Quinn would take a ho-hum approach to bad results. You could see on the bench that Maurice was seething.
- The Leafs scored SIX goals. The team that spawned a cottage industry in "Who is going to score?" articles put up a half dozen goals for the second time in four games.
O'Neill found a soft spot in the penalty kill box near the face-off dot and ripped a snapshot over Brodeur's shoulder.
O'Neill grabbed a forecheck-induced turnover and slid a great pass over to Stajan who just put it wide. Stajan stayed with the puck as it went behind the net and he came out on the other side of the net and banked it in off of a sprawling Brodeur.
20 seconds after the Devils had tied the game Stajan took McCabe's pass as he streaked down the left wing and ripped a 35 foot slapshot that Brodeur couldn't handle. The play resulted from a quick transition into attack after a Parise dump out.
White dumped the puck into the corner to the left of the goal. Kilger pressured the defenceman who tried to whip it around the boards. Peca cut it off and threw it on net as Steen was crashing the net. Kilger, who had come around the back of the net, slammed the rebound home under Brodeur.
Wellwood won the draw cleanly to Tucker and his quick shot hit Brylin's skate and went through Brodeur's skates.
Ponikarovsky picked up a loose puck after a Devils 2-on-1 resulted in a shot wide of the net. He crossed the blueline and showed why he challenges Antropov for the title of most frustrating Leafs by blasting a rocket over Brodeur's leaky glove. The way that the other four Leafs entered the zone and spread out actually reminded me of the Flying V. Maybe they can make that a set play. I know this coach would use it.
Stajan - Came in and shot over the right shoulder of Brodeur who went down far too early.
Sundin - Pulled his now trademark NHL 94 move. Brodeur has been watching Sportscentre because he anticipated it.
Tucker - Tried to go five-hole but it closed up as soon as he committed to it.
Poni - Tried to roof a backhand but Brodeur snagged it with his suddenly repaired glove.
Elias - Tried to get too cute. He went out wide right, cut across to the left, and lost the puck cutting back to the right. Triple dekes rarely work outside of the movies.
Gionta - Shot high over Aubin's glove and scored.
Brylin - Tried to deke to Aubin's left and was stopped. Who can guess the pattern?
Madden - Shot high glove and put it just under the bar. Devils win, spin begins.
Now that the super important, all-knowing media have handed in their copied assignments I can put my favourite section up...
The Final Word
Dare to suggest that the Devils' current group of defensemen just might be the team's biggest question mark this season and jaws begin to drop. Better to criticize the 1978-79 Montreal Canadiens, who had four Hall of Fame defensemen with Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, Guy LaPointe and Rod Langway, than these Devils. "People say what they want to say. We'll feed off that and enjoy proving people wrong," Devils defenseman Brad Lukowich said yesterday.
Rich Chere, The Star-Ledger, providing a good laugh and a nice bit of foreshadowing.
"I thought the goaltending at both ends was equal tonight," the Leafs coach said. "You come on the road and say your goalie played as well as Marty Brodeur did, you're usually pretty happy about that."
Paul Hunter, Toronto Star, showing that Paul Maurice can mock two goalies at once. Pat Quinn could probably only do it one at a time.