Well, for one night at least, the Devils must have felt a bit like the Leafs have for the past almost two decades when they faced New Jersey and Martin Brodeur was on his game. James Reimer was at his best and that, combined with a post here or there and some faulty Devils marksmanship, was enough for the Leafs to sneak past a hard-working but snake-bit opponent.
We all feel that past-times likes hockey take a back seat after awful events like those last year in Newtown and what happened yesterday in Boston, and I will aim to keep this short today.
I’ll just state the obvious—Reimer was awfully good. For me, I’m pleased for a lot of reasons, but it’s nice to see that I was not far off-base when I've said since the end of last season and during the summer (and extended off-season) that I believed Reimer could be what he had been before his injury. That he is such an engaging, genuine young man makes his current success all the more fun for fans like myself. (His thank you to fans at the end of his on-ice interview after the game was a nice touch, too…)
For those who wanted to see a clear-cut case of Reimer ‘stealing’ a game, well, that was textbook. Teams that have serious playoff aspirations sometimes have to find ways to win games they otherwise shouldn’t. We can analyze it many different ways, but the Leafs won- whether they “deserved” it or not. We can attribute it to luck, Reimer, the Devils being lousy, the stars, whatever, but they got two points.
Of course, we all noticed that the Leafs didn’t exactly spend a lot of time in the Jersey zone Monday night, but as they say in soccer, all it takes is one shot sometimes, and Kessel’s snipe on a third period power-play did the trick for the Leafs.
The low shot-total formula is not one they will want to follow forever, obviously, (Foster Hewitt used to say, "He shoots, he scores..." not..."He doesn't shoot, he scores...") but they continue to be in virtually every game, and are winning, though some nights it defies what we see with our eyes. I think they’re winning with some good fortune, for sure, but a lot of guys are working pretty hard. Kulemin, as many have noted here, has been in evidence and in my mind there has been extra effort on his part lately. Maybe I missed it earlier in the season? Or is he in fact playing a bit better?
Kessel’s shots are going in, that always helps. McClement was on the ice in the dying seconds to salt the game away. Fraser was tough in front of the Leaf net. (What is he, still plus 17 or so on the season?) James van Riemsdyk won the draw that led to Kessel’s winner—set up calmly by Franson, who continues to put up points from the back end.
I won’t go through the entire roster, but lots of people contributed. And that’s the way it’s been all season. The team was not at its best, but Reimer was.
Here’s my question for the day, however. With Gunner somewhat injured and sitting upstairs on Monday night along with Kostka, who are the “core six” defensemen you’d like the Leafs to go with come playoff time? The blue and white have won with just about every combination of six guys on the blueline this season, but fans usually have their favourites...players they are most comfortable with when the going gets tough—and it will be tough when the puck drops in the playoffs and the first series wears on.
O’Byrne did not distinguish himself with three penalties against New Jersey, but his physical presence may make him a possible inclusion depending on the first round opponent. Do you want to see Gardiner, Phaneuf, Fraser and Franson for sure? Does Gunner (if healthy) have to be in for you? Who else makes the cut, in your mind? Someone will have to sit.
I recall writing here when Gardiner was a regular healthy scratch that they were winning without him, but also that he would likely be back in the lineup this season and the Leafs would need him at some point. I was not certain it would be this soon but I would imagine he will now cement his slot in the lineup going forward. That said, Carlyle has been trying a lot of different things this season, so nothing is cast in stone, in I guess.
What say you?