For at least one night, all the naysayers that have arisen in the past few days saying that Brian Burke was a fool to add a multi-million dollar bruiser to an already full blueline corps have been quieted. Dion Phaneuf made his Maple Leaf debut in impressive fashion, working the ACC into a frenzy with his first couple shifts, decking Zajac and Parise and fighting Colin White, all in the opening 7 minutes of hockey.
The entire Leaf team looked just as energized as the fans did, flying around the ice all night. Much of the talk surrounding Phaneuf has mentioned the fact that he was a negative locker room presence, but from the look of things during the game and Wilson’s postgame interview, it sounded like he was more impressed than anything else with Phaneuf’s general all-around demeanor. He mentioned that for the first time all season, he was able to hear the players talking in between periods from the coaches’ room two doors down, and he attributed most of that chatter to Phaneuf. All told, Dion finished the night with 4 shots and 6 hits to his credit, as well as a +1 rating.
The other new Leafs were just as impressive. Giguere became only the 2nd goalie in franchise history to record a shutout in his first game as a Leaf – Ed Belfour was the 1st. Jiggy looked good all night, doing alot of what Toskala and Gustavsson haven’t done – playing good positional goaltending, coming out of the crease, cutting down the angles, and generally making life easier on himself. Obviously it’s a little early to crown him the next Brodeur, but he’s clearly a major upgrade from Toskala and looks like he will be a perfect mentor to the Monster.
Sjostrom looked great on the penalty kill, as did the rest of the Leafs for once, killing off both Toronto penalties. He also assisted the first goal of the game, scored by Nikolai Kulemin, who will be expected to increase his offensive output in the absence of Stajan and Hagman. Kessel scored his 17th goal of the year to put the Leafs up 2-0, and Beauchemin added the 3rd on the powerplay late in the 2nd.
Good things all around. It’s far from being the season we all wanted, and a single win over a backup goalie is by no means a good evaluation of how the Leafs’ recent trades will affect the team, but in the middle of a season that has been full of disappointments, I suspect there are quite a few Leaf fans going to bed happy tonight.
1. JS Giguere (30 saves, 33rd career shutout)
2. Dion Phaneuf (4 shots, 8 shots attempted, 3 blocked shots, 6 hits and a fight)
3. Freddy Sjostrom (1 assist, 2 shots, 1 blocked shot, 4 hits)