The Toronto Maple Leafs responded the way you want a team that just went through core shake-up to respond: with an energetic, physical brand of hockey that will be needed in order to climb out of the NHL basement in absence top 6 talent amongst their forwards.
A strong response by those remaining is generally expected from a team the first game after a big trade.
Dion Phaneuf responded strongly in his first NHL game not in a Calgary Flames uniform by asserting his physical style of play early with punishing body-checks, and acquitting himself well in a tussle with big Colin White.
Other newcomer Freddy Sjostrom chipped in with an assist on the opening goal and was noticeable throughout when on the ice. Phil Kessel continued a hot streak of late, notching his 18th goal of the year while continuing to build chemistry with Tyler Bozak and Alexei Ponikarovsky.
Strong positional play and a stout defense in front of him enabled JS Giguere to use his big frame effectively in the Leafs goal. The strong positional play, rebound control and cool demeanor had a calming effect on the young Leafs squad, who limited opposition chances and cleared key areas of the defensive zone regularly throughout. Top marks to the new Leafs netminder for earning a shutout in his debut performance.
It seemed the added muscle in the lineup inspired everyone to play a little bit bigger, and the Leafs took it to the Devils physically throughout the contest.
As the trade deadline approaches, the 'for sale' sign hung out front of the ACC in Toronto has a number of possibilities floating around the rumour mill. In addition to Thomas Kaberle and Alexei Ponikarovsky, Lee Stempniak's name has been circulating as a potential rental player for a team looking to add depth heading into the playoffs.
While it is expected Ponikarovsky and Stempniak will garner draft picks, the return on Kaberle could be much higher, with the asking price reportedly a player, prospect and 1st round pick the offer required to “knock Brian Burke's socks off.”.
When you look at this roster, it is apparent that two areas jump to the top of the list heading towards the March 3 deadline. First being the need to acquire a legitimate first line centre, and second to replenish the draft picks relinquished in the Phil Kessel deal earlier this season.
As mentioned – the first game back after a major shake-up generally sees a team playing with a little extra jump in their step and attention to detail. Time will tell if the Leafs can sustain this strong play, with the realistic goal in mind of diminishing the first round draft position now owned by the Boston Bruins.
About the Author
Written by Mike De Petrillo
Leafs fan; former OHL LW; Live in Toronto