Maple Leafs-Devils Preview

Three games in eight days against the Toronto Maple Leafs

figured to give the New Jersey Devils a good chance to emerge from

a mediocre stretch. After winning the first one, New Jersey faced a

much different Maple Leafs team.

Based on that first impression, it’s also a much better one, but

now the Devils hope their newest acquisition will provide a

much-needed boost on offense.

Dion Phaneuf and Jean-Sebastien Giguere keyed a win over New

Jersey in their Toronto debuts, and they’ll look to help the Maple

Leafs sweep a home-and-home series that concludes Friday night at

the Prudential Center where the Devils are expected to have

high-scoring Ilya Kovalchuk in the lineup.

Toronto (18-28-11) had lost six straight and 11 of 13 when

general manager Brian Burke made two moves designed to shake up his

last-place club Sunday.

Phaneuf, acquired from Calgary in a seven-player deal, and

Giguere, who came over from Anaheim for Vesa Toskala and Jason

Blake, were seen as building blocks as recently as two years ago

but had fallen out of favor with their clubs.

Both played more like their former All-Star selves Tuesday at

Air Canada Centre. Phaneuf had a team-high four shots and set a

physical tone by fighting New Jersey’s Colin White 6:51 into the

first period, and Giguere made 30 saves in the 3-0 victory.

“It was a good result,” Giguere said after his first shutout

since Nov. 27. “Since I’ve come here, over the last 48 hours, I

really like what I’ve seen from the rest of the team. Everybody’s

really focused. Everybody’s working really hard. Tonight, you could

tell.”

Giguere has plenty of positive history against the Devils,

having won the Conn Smythe Trophy in the 2003 Stanley Cup finals

despite New Jersey defeating Anaheim in seven games. He’s 4-1-0

with a tie and a 2.12 goals-against average against the Devils

(35-18-2) in the regular season.

New Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire was impressed with the new-look

Leafs, who didn’t have much luck slowing the Devils down four days

earlier in a 5-4 overtime loss in Newark.

“They’re better defensively, you can tell,” said Lemaire, whose

Devils are in a 3-7-1 slump. “They’ve got great shooters on the

point and you could see it tonight. They got some great shots.”

Toronto coach Ron Wilson – who will be behind the bench for the

U.S. Olympic team – learned Monday he will no longer be joined by

rugged Leafs defenseman Mike Komisarek in Vancouver due to

season-ending shoulder surgery.

The 6-foot-3, 214-pound Phaneuf, however, provides plenty of

physicality, and some leadership as well.

“He’s gung-ho, seems to love hockey, and it rubs off on

everybody,” Wilson said. “We could hear him talking in between

periods from the coach’s office, which is almost two rooms away and

three doorways.”

Devils defenseman Paul Martin also was slated to be on the U.S.

team, but pulled out Monday due to a slow-healing broken forearm

that’s sidelined him since late October.

New Jersey’s biggest problem lately, however, has come up front.

The Devils have scored 16 goals in their last 10 games, getting

little production aside from Zach Parise (five goals, five assists)

while seeing their Atlantic Division lead over Pittsburgh shrink to

one point.

Parise had two goals and two assists last Friday against the

Leafs, his third multigoal game in his past eight versus

Toronto.

To address that, the Devils pulled off a major trade Thursday

night, acquiring Kovalchuk and defenseman Anssi Samela from Atlanta

for forward Niclas Bergfors, defenseman Johnny Oduya, prospect

Patrice Cormier. The teams also swapped future draft picks.

Kovalchuk had 31 goals and 27 assists in 49 games this season

for the Thrashers. He missed six games because of a broken bone in

his foot.

“We felt Kovalchuk was a player who could come and fill the

need that we felt we had for an explosive scorer and someone who

could add a different dimension to our power play with the type of

shot,” Lamoriello said. “Then it was just the case of trying to

make it work some how where we could not sacrifice tomorrow.”

Since the Thrashers drafted Kovalchuk No. 1 overall in 2001, the

Russian Olympian leads the NHL with 328 goals, but Atlanta has made

just one playoff appearance and has yet to win a postseason

game.

The Devils should have Martin Brodeur back in net Friday after

backup Yann Danis played Tuesday, breaking the four-time Vezina

Trophy winner’s streak of 40 consecutive starts.

Brodeur hasn’t exactly posted Vezina-worthy numbers at home

against Toronto, however, going 4-3-2 with a 3.88 GAA in his last

nine starts.