The funny thing about writing these recaps is that every single game, I could just start them off with "hail to Phil Kessel, bringer of goals, saver of games." Last night, it was this one - and it's so pretty, it pre-empts the game in six:
If you're wondering, that's Phil Kessel getting the puck in the neutral zone, skating into his own zone, then stickhandling through three New Jersey Devils, getting hooked twice, which drew a penalty, and then scoring five-hole on Cory Schneider. It's the stuff dreams are made of.
It would be the only goal of the Leafs game, and the Devils would later tie it up 1-1, but a JVR shootout goal would lock up the Skills Competition win. Here's your game in six:
The big experiment, Lupul-JVR-Kessel, definitely worked for me. They're three smart, offensively talented players that spent all night trying to get too fancy with cross crease passes; I know "almost-shots" don't get you anywhere, but I'd expect something a little rough, when a winger is thrown in at C.
Clarkson had two great chances in the first, and looked strong on the puck all night - have to expect he'll start putting up some points soon. Raymond, looked good, too, I think, but it's weird seeing Kadri out there making skill moves with wingers that don't seem to play the same style of game. I think the line will still work fine in the short term, though.
McLaren rode the pine all night, which helped the team in a close game (almost as much as bringing a competent hockey player would've), but I liked Carlyle's usage of the bottom six. Smithson had a good debut, playing over 3 minutes on the PK, and filled in the McClement-esque "d-zone faceoffs and PK" mold.
I thought Fraser-Ranger looked good, and I thought Gardiner looked good in the offensive zone, but trying (and failing) a toe-drag in the defensive zone slot while on the PP is how you get the reputation of being a liability. Rielly played only 13 minutes, which I suppose is better than being in the press box, and on the other end of the spectrum, Dion played 27 minutes. I understand why in a close game, but you have to imagine that'll limit his endurance going up against Bergeron and company.
For the lone goal against the Leafs Bernier tries to deflect a puck away, and it ends up going into the top corner on his own goal. A textbook example of puck luck - it's a routine play that went a little off-kilter for reasons I still don't totally know (wrong angle on the stick? odd bounce on the puck?). Bernier went 34/35, a perfect 30-for-30 at ES, and it's another game where the Leafs goaltending performed well enough to carry the team in front of them.
I was surprised Clarkson didn't get a shootout chance, but I'm glad JVR could put it away. The Leafs play Boston tonight as the second half of a back-to-back, so going the full 65 with the Devils wasn't particularly fortunate. Puck drop is at 7 - go Leafs go.