Despite the vocal and waffle-infused public outcry for Ron Wilson’s head on a silver platter from Leaf Nation, Brian Burke has stuck by his friend and head coach. Lou Lamoriello wasn’t as forgiving with first year head coach John MacLean, who was canned last week in a move that, although well-justified, would make the Grinch shiver with its timing.
The Devils are one of just two teams with worse records than the Maple Leafs, with just 9 wins on the season so far. After an offseason circus centered on Russian primadonna Ilya Kovalchuk, the Devils were supposed tobe a new-look team from the defensive juggernauts of the past. Well, they’ve ccertainly been a new-look, as they seem doomed to miss the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons. For Leaf fans, missing the playoffs has become a thing of regularity, but for all 15 Devils fans, it’s certainly going to be quite a shocker.
As inconsistent as the Leafs have been, the Devils’ consistency has been even more frustrating, as they have managed just one win in the month of December, dropping their other 9 contests in the final month of the season. In their last five losses, they’ve only managed to score one goal in each loss. Their 60 goals for rank last in the entire league, while they’ve given up more goals than any other team in the East except Tampa Bay and Atlanta. Kovalchuk has been a bigger disappointment than the Leafs’ blueline, and only veteran Patrik Elias has more than 20 points.
If there was ever a team the Leafs needed to take advantage of to get their own season back on track, the Devils are it. New coach Jacques Lemaire will certainly be stressing a defense-first mindset against the offensively-inept Leafs, but if the Buds can avoid a start like they had against Atlanta they should stand a good chance of kicking off their post-holiday season with a win. Mikhail Grabovski has been one of the few bright spots for the Leafs’ offense, scoring 7 goals in his last 8 games, leading the team with 12 goals. His linemate, Clarke MacArthur, who was vocally critical of his team’s efforts against the Thrashers, leads the team with 26 points. Jonas Gustavsson will get the start in net, and will be hoping to avoid a similar outcome as his last few games have brought about. The Monster has given up 13 goals in his last three starts, and while he can’t be blamed for all of them, if the Leafs are to get back on track, he’ll have to be at the top of his game. At the other end of the ice, Martin Brodeur will be looking to get just his 6th win of the season, having gone 5-16-2 in what has to be the worst season of his distinguished career.