Post-Game Thoughts: Truculence Personified

Not one player on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2009-10 squad has had their name chanted in the Air Canada Center. It took Dion Phaneuf all of 6 minutes and 51 seconds.

When Travis Zajac had his face plastered into the boards, I just knew we had found our very own Chuck Norris. Then, Phaneuf dropped the gloves with Colin White and my man-crush officially began.

Okay, maybe I’m getting a little too excited. But when’s the last time Leafs fans have had reason to get excited about a potential future Norris trophy winner? I, for one, think we’re entitled to some Kool-Aid drinking tonight.

But let’s get post-game thoughts brewing here, folks:

- Dion Phaneuf. That is all.

- Okay, seriously… He set the tone early with a couple of big hits and it seemed to instill some energy into the lineup—something that’s been lacking the last few seasons. He was aggressive on the puck carrier and limited their time and space in the Leafs’ end. He also loaded some shotgun blasts from the point and has added a new dimension to the Leafs’ powerplay. He registered 4 shots, 6 hits, a +1 rating and logged 23:47 TOI. I’d rate his first outing in a Leafs uniform a solid A.

- Nikolai Kulemin continues to impress. While he hasn’t translated his offensive numbers from the KHL, he’s been a defensive presence for the Buds and has managed to show flashes of his offensive potential. Tonight he buried an opportune rebound from Yann Danis to score his 11th of the season. At 23 years old, Kulemin is displaying the type of hockey that will land him a job on the 3rd line for the foreseeable future. He can chip in goals when called upon and kill penalties effectively. If the Leafs can retain him for a reasonable price, what more can you ask from a player of his ilk?

- On the same note, you gotta like the defensive awareness of the Kulemin- Rickard Wallin- Sjostrom line. Yeah, that’s right, Wallin actually had a solid game and was noticeable on the ice. He was aggressive on the forecheck and his quick thinking resulted in some odd-man rushes for the Leafs. Not bad, for once.

- Anyone else think it might be worth re-signing Stempniak? He has a strong work ethic and he’s a solid two-way presence. He can chip-in anywhere from 40-50 points a season and log some PK time. Could serve a crucial role on the third-line moving forward. Thoughts?

- Jean-Sebastien Giguere was solid between the pipes tonight. His big frame covers a lot of net and it compensates for his average lateral movement. He wasn’t tested too much but he made the routine saves and, if you were to ask ex-Leaf Vesa Toskala, that’s not always a simple task. He’s composed in the crease and I don’t recall a moment where he didn’t have control of the puck. Oh yeah, did I mention he got a shutout his first game? Truculence.

- Alexei Ponikarovsky seemed to establish chemistry with new linemates, Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak. The trio produced the second goal, off the stick of Kessel, using their speed and ability to connect tape-to-tape passes. Ponikarovsky drove to the net on a few occasions and with Kessel patroling for loose pucks, it could serve as a good combo moving forward. And Bozak seems to be progressing as well. He’s a little tentative under pressure and can lose the puck, but his slick hands and vision allow him to create plays. It’s still too early to determine, but he’s making strides towards gaining consideration as the team’s number-two center next season.

- Christian Hanson had a decent game centering Stempniak and Mitchell. He did not contribute much in terms of offensive chances but he made smart decisions in his own end and he didn’t try to be flashy with the puck. He also saved a goal in the dying minutes of the second period with some quick thinking, too. Needs more time to adjust to the rigors of the NHL game but he still has the tools to become a quality third-line player.

- Gotta wonder if the inclusion of Phaneuf to the top PP unit will mean more goals from Beachemin. The Leafs now have two big slapshots in their arsenal and two defensemen—Tomas Kaberle and Carl Gunnarson– to feed them the puck on the back-end. This trade could have more positives then we originally thought.

- Sjostrom has done in one night what Jamal Mayers had failed to do during his entire stay. Okay, maybe that’s not fair and it’s only one game, but Sjostrom provided solid penalty-killing and made some timely shot blocks. He won’t turn the entire PK around, but it’s refreshing to see a player fill his role as a defensive specialist—even if it is one game. He logged the most minutes, along with Wallin, on the PK with 2:17 TOI, and he registered 2 shots to go along with his assist and +1 rating. Not too shabby.

I can literally write a book here of my thoughts on the game, but let’s hear what Leafs Nation has to say before this post becomes a little too long-winded.