The Meadowlands has often been a less than satisfying place for the Leafs to play. Even when we were good (1999-2004) the Devils were even better, and took the measure of the Leafs whenever they played in the playoffs.
Of course, that was when Scott Stevens patrolled the blueline, and a young Scott Niedermayer was, well, like Jake Gardiner but even better and more experienced. They had that stifling checking system, guys that were tough and hard to play against (Madden, Holik, et al) and…they had Martin Brodeur.
Well, the Martin Brodeur we saw Wednesday night was 39, coming off an injury and three weeks away from active competition.
It might as well have been five years.
The Leafs scored on their 5 of only 16 shots in the first two periods. (Gustavsson was better than that, allowing but three on 17 shots, if you want to spin a mess into some kind of positive…)
Somewhere, Leaf players from the early 2000s were surely watching and thinking ”My God, if Brodeur was like this when we played these guys in the playoffs…we’d have gone to the Conference finals a lot more often…”. Having said that, Marty stoned Kessel, I think it was, about 6 minutes into the final period, though that was more desperation than skill- but it was still spectacular.
In any event, though it was hardly a masterpiece of great hockey, why not focus on a win—and the positives:
- Lupul must surely have his swagger back. Here’s a guy that Burke had, traded and now has again. He wanted him back. And so far, a healthy (that’s key here) Lupul is repaying that faith big time.
- Kessel picked up his almost nightly (it’s a bit over the top to say customary but it feels that way) two points. And he could easily have had more.
- Komisarek was a plus 3 with about 20 minutes of ice time.
- Gardiner continued to make plays that make us wonder if he will ever show “rookie” nerves.
- Schenn fought, which makes me wonder if he is trying to get himself going.
- One of our constant themes in recent years has been a lack of secondary scoring. Well, that continues to be a strength in the early going this season, including against the Devils as Crabb and Grabbo netted key markers.
Not to put a damper on things, but there is some context here. The Devils (and yes, they proved me partly wrong last season with their remarkable second half under Lemaire) are not exactly the Devils we used to know. Not even close.
Who would you take off their roster right now?
Young Larsson, OK. Volchenkov? Sure. But at that price?
Elias, Sykora? Magnificent, elite players through the years, especially Elias, but perhaps on the other side of the mountain.
Parise? Of course. But beyond that, who? And this is the point, they’re just another team—and not a terribly promising one at that.
Given they will be paying Ilya Kovalchuk a massive amount on that extraordinary (and awful, which regular readers know I’ve hated from the get-go) contract, how can they possibly build the kind of team they need to?
I’ve always loved watching Kovalchuk- when it comes to pure entertainment. I had hoped he would stay with the Thrashers and help them turn the corner. But after the trade (and his re-signing with) to New Jersey, I still can’t see the “fit”, given the way Lamoriello likes his teams to play. And we should make no mistake, it is always Lou’s team.
When you watch Kovalchuk now, you see him making the same mistakes he has been making since his early seasons with the Thrashers. All veterans make mistakes but I wonder if he has really matured as a player. I know many Russian players are playing with heavy hearts this season after the terrible tragedy several weeks ago. So we should be measured in our comments, for sure. But my concern with Kovalchuk goes way back, and I don’t see things getting better with him in the Devils line-up—and Parise likely playing elsewhere next season.
Who will ever want Kovalchuk, for that amount, for that many years? It may take years for New Jersey to unwind from that one signing.
As for the Leafs, right now, they are winning more often than not—not a common occurrence in recent years.
In Toronto, it seems a luxury to only complain about special teams, or The Monster not being brilliant all the time, rather than the team just being plain lousy—and losing—most nights.
And surely that’s a good thing.