The best and worst of Dion Phaneuf was laid bare on Monday night.
The open-ice check on Carolina Hurricanes forward Tuomo Ruutu was vintage Phaneuf, which sounds a little strange considering the Maple Leafs captain is all of 25 years old.
The defensive breakdown by Phaneuf on Brandon Sutterís first goal in the third period also was something that will become familiar to Leafs fans as Phaneuf honours his contract in the next 31/2 seasons.
Sutter beat Phaneuf to the puck in the corner, and then was faster than Phaneuf to get to the front of the net and start the scoring in what evolved as a wild final 20 minutes.
Kudos to Phaneuf for a hell of a pass to Tim Brent for a short-handed goal. But Phaneuf, on the whole, will be a guy whose defensive warts will be glaring at times.
The good news is that Phaneuf is hitting people again. It was the third game in a row that he has laid out a member of the opposition, and he has to keep doing that. Not long after he crushed Ruutu, Hurricanes forward Jussi Jokinen hesitated along the boards when he realized Phaneuf was in the vicinity.
Thatís the kind of truculent presence general manager Brian Burke wants his team to have.
From the hash marks
Phil Kesselís inconsistency is a large reason why he canít be considered a top-tier NHL player. He has gone six games without a goal after scoring in four in a row. Consistently good players are exactly that. Thereís no way No. 81 should be the Leafsí representative at the all-star game this weekend. Mikhail Grabovski or Clarke MacArthur are more deserving. Sorry, but Kessel is not making $6 million US (with a $5.4-million salary cap hit) this season so he can score every so often. When the Leafs needed their costliest forward in the third period, he was nowhere to be seen ... As hard as it was to watch Nikolai Kulemin get his nose splattered by a Tim Gleason punch, itís hard to feel sorry for him. Kulemin twice socked Gleason in the face, with his glove on, right before he got drilled. Gleason got his gloves off before Kulemin knew what was coming, but that is not necessarily an indication that Kulemin wanted no part of a fight. If Kulemin is going to play with fire, he should expect to get burned ... Why do fights involving guys who donít often scrap get the juices going a little more than those that involve heavyweights? Watching MacArthur throw Chad LaRose around brought to mind the tussle at the Air Canada Centre years ago when Zdeno Chara, then with Ottawa, used Bryan McCabe as a rag doll. McCabe, usually stone-faced with reporters, actually had a laugh after that game and said he was ďlucky to be alive.Ē ... Phaneuf was unlucky when Joe Corvoís shot ricocheted off his left foot and into the net behind Jean-Sebastien Giguere. But Mike Brown should have done a better job in taking Corvoís shooting lane away ... The Hurricanes were not much better on Tomas Kaberleís goal that tied the game 1-1. Kaberleís backhand could not have been weaker, but Joey Crabb managed to distract Carolina defencemen Ian White and Joni Pitkanen enough that they did not clear the puck. Those two íCanes canít be that soft in front of their own net.
The Leafs should go with Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer in goal after the all-star break. Giguere is slated to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and unless Burke knows he will re-sign Giguere, there is no point in playing him much (for those who think Giguere should be showcased prior to the Feb. 28 trade deadline, other teams know him well enough to make that unnecessary). Gustavsson and Reimer appear to be the goalies of the future, and who knows? The playoffs are a distant dream, but the youngsters might give them a better shot at even coming close to getting there ... Kessel, Crabb and Tyler Bozak all had a chance to clear the puck from the Toronto zone in the seconds before Jamie McBain used Mike Komisarek as a screen to beat Giguere. Though he might not have seen the puck all the way, Giguere still did not look good on the play ... That no goal was awarded on Jeff Skinnerís wraparound attempt in the second period was the right call. There was no conclusive evidence that the puck crossed the line ... Good for Brent. The former captain of the St. Michaelís Majors had his best game as a Leaf, and reminded us in the third period of the days he ruled the roost at St. Mikeís Arena. It takes longer for some guys to make it to the NHL for various reasons, but Brentís hockey smarts have never been a question ... The Leafs fell to 2-21-2 when trailing after 40 minutes.