Monday night, the Devils were the first team to face the Leafs’ latest big time acquisitions, and ran into a fired up team with a noisy crowd behind them. Tonight, the roles will be reversed, although based on the Devils’ games I’ve been to, the crowd won’t be anywhere near as loud as the ACC was on Monday. Superstar Ilya Kovalchuk is expected to make his debut at the Prudential Center in Newark tonight, assuming he doesn’t get mugged on the way into the building.
The Devils could certainly use Kovalchuk’s offense (31 goals, 58 points), as they’ve managed to score just 16 goals in their last 10 games, and have limped to a 3-7-1 record since mid-January. Zach Parise has been the only Devil who hasn’t been absolutely miserable offensively in that stretch, with 11 points in his last 11 games, although, to be fair, 4 of those points came in last Friday’s overtime win against the Leafs.
Toronto will be hoping they get a repeat performance of their strong showing on Monday, when a solid team defensive effort (can’t believe I’m actually able to write that) and great physical play powered them to a 3-0 shutout win over the Devils. Dion Phaneuf was a huge part of that win, setting the tone early with a fight and some big hits, and it appears that his winning attitude has begun to trickle down to the rest of his young teammates. ”He’s gung-ho, seems to love hockey, and it rubs off on everybody,” says coach Ron Wilson. In comments to the Toronto Star the other day, Phaneuf had some very lofty expectations regarding his new team, going so far as to indicate that he doesn’t feel that the playoffs are out of reach.” ‘It’s not over yet,’ Phaneuf said after practice. ‘There’s a lot of games left. We are where we are, but we have to do our best to get points and make a push for the playoffs. … If teams lose and you win a few, you’re right there.’ ”
It will take a lot more than just a single win over Yann Danis and the struggling Devils to get the Leafs back into the playoff picture, but what doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility is the fact that the Leafs should be able to make a push to get out of the league basement and deny the Bruins a top 3 draft pick. A nice little win streak going into the Olympic break would be the first step in that direction, and tonight’s game should be great to watch.