The Toronto Maple Leafs took advantage of a struggling opponent for their second straight win as they downed the terrible New Jersey Devils 3-1. The Leafs' powerplay (funny how that works) made the difference with two goals. Up a man to start the second period Mikhail Grabovski potted his fifth in six games to open the scoring after Martin Brodeur kicked out a huge rebound from a Nikolai Kulemin shot. The Leafs extended their lead as rookie Nazem Kadri picked up his second assist of his NHL career as he curled off of the half-boards and found a ridiculously wide-open Phil Kessel. Kessel showed great patience and then found daylight between Martin Brodeur's legs. The Devils responded with a flukey goal. In the third, as the Devils were pressing, Kris Versteeg put the game away with a great one-timer on another beauty feed from Kadri as he floated into the middle of the ice.
Kadri had his third straight game where he looked dangerous on the attack and his first career multi-point game. Of course, this decent start has been used as a club with which to beat Wilson and Burke over the head. There are enough legitimate reasons to do so without reaching. "Since he's started so well why wasn't he up to start the year!?" is the refrain and it's a little disingenuous. On the one hand people are howling about the culture of entitlement that see Brett Lebda (until tonight!!!) stay in the line-up despite not contributing much and actually causing damage. On the other hand, they wanted a player that was clearly not ready to put forth an NHL-level amount of thought and effort into defensive play to be kept up just because he's the club's top prospect. Pick a lane. Anyway, in the early going it's clear that his time in the AHL focusing on his defence has been beneficial. Godd Till probably put it best: you find out when guys are ready by playing them when they've earned it. If he's not then you can send him down. It still might happen because his development is a process. That's the big takeaway. If he regresses in his defensive conscientiousness and isn't contributing offensively then a quick refresher in the AHL wouldn't be the end of the world.
8 observations about tonight's game:
- The New Jersey Devils fired 60 shots on net to the Maple Leafs 43. A quick look at the Corsi/Fenwick shows that the Leafs were on the defensive at even strength. It's not a surprise as the Buds regressed into a defensive shell in the third period and soaked up pressure. It was a solid defensive performance from the team.
- Kadri played almost 20 minutes including three and a half minutes on the powerplay. At evens he faced Anton Volchenkov and Andy Greene so he wasn't completely shielded from difficult competition. His handling has been night and day with how Paul Maurice handled Jiri Tlusty.
- In the absence of Dion Phaneuf, Mike Komisarek joined Francois Beauchemin as the team's shutdown pair. They were on the ice for almost 15 minutes of ice-time against Ilya Kovalchuk. They would have held him pointless if not for Zubrus' lucky goal.
- Who joined the duo in facing Kovalchuk? Fredrik Sjostrom, Kris Versteeg, and John Mitchell spent the most time against the struggling Russian. The trio used their speed to harass him into ineffectiveness.
- Mitchell gets a lot of stick, usually rightly this year, and a lot seems to stem from him trying to rise above his station. Over the past two games he's been a big part in shutting down the opposition's top line. He's used his skating and speed to do so. He does have a couple of howlers (and a stupid penalty) but Wilson's made it clear that he sees Mitchell's ceiling as a defensive forward and the guy appears to be beginning to understand that that is how he is going to stay in the NHL.
- I like Colton Orr. I think he can serve a purpose. However, if he is going to play less than five minutes a game then I'd rather he get a rest against teams that don't dress enforcers. Freeing Luca Caputi could give the Leafs four lines that can conceivably add offence including a couple of defensively solid lines. Wilson saw the light with Lebda so maybe this will be the next step.
Jonas Gustavsson did a great job controlling his rebounds which just highlighted what a groove he was in tonight. As a result, the Leafs faced a disproportionate amount of defensive zone face-offs. Beauchemin, Komisarek, and Tim Brent led the way.
- The Devils did not dress a player with a number above Martin Brodeur's 30. Thought that was interesting.