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New Jersey post-game: Did we expect this?

 Well, we can certainly say the Leafs haven’t “mailed it in”. Last night’s game was one they could certainly have won in regulation. They were the better team.
Now, we shouldn’t be surprised that no one is packing it in. It’s the least fans would expect. And to reiterate something that fans know in their hearts: a lot of what we’re seeing know may be a mirage. It will only really mean anything when the points begin to matter again—which won’t be until October.
That said, the Leafs are playing hard against teams that have a lot more on the line than they do. Again, that’s part of what is sometimes misleading, but we can only assess what we see. 
  • Who would have thought the Leafs would be killing penalties with much more efficiency than they did throughout the first half of the season—well, in fact, dating back to I don’t know when. Sjostrom makes a difference, as does Phaneuf. It really must come down to personnel, because I don’t imagine the Leafs are suddenly deploying a radically different penalty-killing system.
  • On the other hand, many folks probably figured the Leafs would explode on the power-play when Phaneuf arrived. We continue to wait for that, though, on paper, the combination of Kaberle and Phaneuf on the point would seem to be perfect—the big bomber and the sublime passer.
  • Three months ago, when things looked awfully bleak, did we think we’d have a number one line at this point? Maybe the real question is—can we really call Bozak, Kessel and Kulemin a true number one line? They seem to possess the individual skill—and bring some of the qualities—of a pretty good second line on a good NHL team. However, it’s too early to make any pronouncements.
  • Kessel is doing what many goal-scorers do. He struggled mightily for a time, but in recent times has found his “touch”.
  • Last night we saw good Giggy. It’s hard not to be satisfied when the team gives up only one goal. I wonder if Wilson is considering a “platoon” system for next season with Giguerre and Gustavsson.
  • Schenn continues to make strides. On the one goal the Leafs gave up, Schenn fought hard along the boards, but the New Jersey forward made a great play to stay with it and then made a tremendous pass.
  • I’ve always loved Kovalchuk’s talent, but I still don’t fully understand the Devils giving up basically three first-round choices and a good defenseman for what will almost certainly be a rental player—and one who doesn’t fit the Lemaire system. We need only think about Gaborik to realize that. I can only imagine how many goals a healthy Gaborik would have scored all those years in Minnesota.
  • The TSN analyst was suggesting the Leafs are “learning” to play in these situations. There is no question young players—all players for that matter—are always “learning”. But I’m not sure what “situation” they are learning about. Game situations, sure. That’s a game-by-game part of the growth process for any athlete. But they’re not facing playoff pressure. They’re not learning to play in the playoffs. Surely, they don’t need to learn how to play in meaningless late-season games? The Leafs have tons of experience with that over the past five seasons. That’s why I say, all these games, and this apparent improvement, is great, but Leaf fans should be from Missouri on this one. We’ve seen this movie before.
  • There are some nice young players here, for sure, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As quickly as a player can “win” a job now, you can lose it in training camp, or during the early going next season. Very few guys on the current roster are “proven” NHL’ers.
  • John Mitchell is an interesting example. While not exactly part of the “kiddie corps”, in the minds of many fans (and perhaps management) he has under-performed to date in his Leaf career. This last week, he has displayed moves and confidence which suggest he has more to offer beyond possibly being a checking center. I had checked him off him in terms being on the roster next season. Will his current play—if he stays with it—make him a fixture in the mind of Leaf decision-makers?
 I will say this: this group is a lot more fun to watch—and cheer for—than what was here a few months ago.

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