December 7, 2011
Leafs showing growth
By TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency
TORONTO - The Maple Leafs didn’t improve in the win column on Tuesday night, but there was growth nonetheless.
A 3-2 loss in overtime against the New Jersey Devils guaranteed the Leafs one point, and that was possible after the young club demonstrated its ability to put some difficulties aside.
“I talked about that at the end of last year,” goalie James Reimer said, “about being a team that could go far in the playoffs because we had so much character. We have built on that resiliency and that will to win.”
The Leafs commonly are the youngest team in the NHL, or in a group of young teams that usually includes the Colorado Avalanche and Nashville Predators.
They don’t have a wealth of experience, but other than in games against the Boston Bruins, they’re becoming a team that does not appear to be bothered by much. It’s the sort of trait that should help in the final stretch next March and April.
An early 2-0 deficit against the Devils didn’t put much of a dent in the Leafs’ determination.
“We could have thrown in the towel,” Reimer said. “But we didn’t, and I thought we dominated for the last two periods.”
The Devils were smart off the hop. They knew the Leafs would be tired after playing in New York the night before, and forechecked hard in the opening 10 minutes, scoring two power-play goals ... Phil Kessel’s longest goal-less drought of the season — six games — came to an end when Joffrey Lupul’s rebound went into the Devils net off Kessel’s skate. There were times a year ago when Kessel would have killed for that kind of luck ... Reimer saved Jake Gardiner’s bacon midway through the third period, coming up with a point-blank save after Gardiner gave the puck to Zach Parise ... Had Leafs forward Matt Frattin been Milan Lucic or Jordin Tootoo, he might not have squealed his brakes in the Devils crease in the first period. Because Frattin stopped suddenly, he did not run over New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur ... It’s clear that Philippe Dupuis was not signed by the Leafs during the summer to provide scoring, but isn’t this getting to be a little much? Dupuis has been fine as a penalty killer — forget for a moment the Leafs were 27th in the NHL in that category going into the game — but every NHL player is expected to provide even a sliver of offence every now and then. Dupuis, though, has no points in 25 games. Dupuis broke in alone on Brodeur on the opening shift of the second period but his backhand deke was stopped by the sure-fire Hall of Famer ... It’s going to be fun to watch Devils defenceman Adam Larsson as his NHL career progresses. Selected fourth overall by the Devils this past June, Larsson has nerves of steel. He threw a nice little hip check on the Leafs’ Joe Colborne. But Larsson didn’t look so good when Frattin got around him to score the tying goal two minutes into the third period ... As Frattin’s confidence grows, he’ll start using his speed with more abandon. Frattin’s wheels are perfect for coach Ron Wilson’s attacking system ... Defenceman John-Michael Liles was the Leafs’ poster boy for problems in the early going. Liles twice was whistled for minor penalties in the first period, this after he had two minors in the previous 27 games ... In the span of a month, Luke Schenn has gone from being a healthy scratch to being one of the Leafs’ top defensive defencemen.
FROM THE HASH MARKS
Cody Franson laid out Devils forward Tim Sestito with a crushing body check near the centre-ice boards. Franson isn’t known for using his 6-foot-5, 213-pound body for such physical contact, but he should be doing it more often. Franson watched with respect on Monday, when Dion Phaneuf pasted the New York Rangers’ Michael Sauer at Madison Square Garden. “That was a good old-time hockey hit,” Franson said ... Colby Armstrong reached a dubious milestone when he missed the game because of a sprained ankle. Since signing a three-year, $9-million US contract with the Leafs in July 2010, Armstrong has played in 55 games and missed 55 games because of injuries. All that’s keeping Armstrong out of the lineup now is his physical conditioning, but he hopes to be back on Friday in Washington ... Ilya Kovalchuk’s shot is so hard you can almost hear his stick bending from the press box ... Devils director of scouting David Conte often is lauded for his ability to find players in later rounds, and Adam Henrique appears to be another diamond in the rough. Henrique, a native of Brantford who had 40 family and friends on hand for his first NHL game at the ACC, was a solid but unspectacular player in four seasons with the Windsor Spitfires. The 82nd pick overall by the Devils in 2008, Henrique has 17 points in 23 games in 2011-12 after just one season in the minors ... Captains often will lead by example or by being vocal in the dressing room, but Phaneuf is comfortable making his presence felt in both areas. It’s one reason he is respected as much as he is by his teammates ... Curious to see how the Dec. 23 game between the Devils and Washington Capitals unfolds. It’s not a stretch to say Devils coach Peter DeBoer and Caps coach Dale Hunter hated each another when they were coaching Kitchener and London, respectively, in the Ontario Hockey League.