Tuesday, 2 February 2010

This Ain't No Will Smith Song

That's a pretty good start for Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Giguere did something last night that only one other goaltender in the Toronto Maple Leafs' history has done. "Giggy" posted a shutout in his very first start in a Toronto Maple Leafs uniform, equaling the mark set by Ed Belfour in 2002. No other goaltenders in the Leafs' history have recorded a shutout in their first starts except these two men. Not a bad way to start your career in the Centre of the Hockey Universe if you JS Giguere at all. However, what was more impressive was the play of the entire Toronto team tonight against New Jersey.

I spoke the other day of how Dion Phaneuf's career needed to be defined clearly by both Ron Wilson and Brian Burke if he were to remain an elite player. I compared Phaneuf to Scott Stevens in that Stevens was a feared scorer at the start of his career before becoming the most dominant physical player of his generation. When that change was made, Stevens achieved the highest honour: hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Dion Phaneuf's play tonight had me seeing shades of Stevens again. Phaneuf was a physical force out there, punishing New Jersey's stars every time they crossed the blueline. And when Colin White took exception to Phaneuf's physicality, White took the full wrath of a renewed Phaneuf. Much like Stevens, his physical play was backed up by his gloveless fists, as White found out.

Fredrik Sjostrom, part of the deal to bring Phaneuf to Toronto, also helped out his new team when his shot was stopped, but Nikolai Kulemin pounced on the rebound to give Toronto the early 1-0 lead. Sjostrom looked comfortable in a Leafs uniform, and could start producing with lowered expectations put on him. Sjostrom's speed and puck pursuit were evident on the Leafs' penalty-killing unit that prevented the Devils from scoring with the man-advantage.

However, there needs to be something said about Giguere's play tonight. He is now tied for the team-lead in shutouts this season (that's not saying much), but his 30-save performance was certainly reminiscent of the old Giguere that carried the Ducks to the Stanley Cup Finals.

"I was nervous tonight, to be honest, I didn't feel very good out there," Giguere told the Jeremy Sandler of the National Post. "The last two days were really tough, just a lot of things going on, a lot of people to talk to and stuff like that. I'm looking forward to the next couple of days her to kind of settle down and get ready for the next game."

While the Leafs only have 47 points, they sit 35 points away from 82 points. 82 points is, of course, the magical point total that they need to achieve for me to give away a Leafs jersey this season. With a mere 25 games remaining in the NHL season, the Leafs will have to go 17-7-1 in those last 25 games to make it to 82 points.

I'm confident that this Leafs team won't make it to 82 points this season, but they looked just good enough last night to put a little bit of fear in me. The Leafs jersey that is sitting in plastic on my desk right now wants to be given away, and the Leafs looked like they want me to give it away tonight. It's the first time all season that I've felt like the Leafs want me to award the jersey.

Here's hoping they can make it interesting down the stretch. Their magic number is sitting at eight losses. If you want a chance at a free Leafs jersey, now might be the best time to start cheering them on.

And if the Leafs can continue getting "Giggy" with it, they may just scare a few teams along the way too.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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