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Leafs Look To Set The Pace

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs


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The Leafs play the New Jersey Devils tonight at Air Canada Centre and there is a nice symmetry in this.

Fourteen games ago, they faced the same Devils only with the newly-acquired Dion Phaneuf and Jean-Sebastien Giguere in the lineup.

If you go back over the Leafs’ results and measure how they did since the deal based on the same number of games before and after the trade, you find some startling math.

First, the club’s goals against has dipped by exactly one goal a game, from 3.71 to 2.71.

Second, the team has won seven times in 14 games, including four out of its last five. The Leafs won only three of the 14 games before the trade.

While goalie Jonas Gustavsson has won in his last four starts, the turnaround started with Giguerre who blanked New Jersey and Ottawa in his first games wearing blue and white and ran up a shutout string of 151:30.

Giguere deflects any notion that he is the architect of the team’s resurgence.

"You know, not giving up goals is a team thing. It’s not just goaltending and defenceman. Everybody has to contribute and since I’ve been here, you can tell guys are really trying hard."

Giguere admits the rest of the season is a simulation but he sees it as a valuable one.

“We’re trying to set a playoff pace as far as winning and losing is concerned,” he said. “That’s our goal. We’re trying to play like a playoff team.”

"he Maple Leafs now have a true tandem, two goalies devoted to competing and a"sorbing the teaching of goalie coach Francois Allaire. Originally, Leafs’ coach Ron Wilson planned to give the lion’s share of the work to Giguere but Gustavsson’s solid play prompted Wilson to go for a platoon.

Giguere might be in the same position he was in Anaheim where Jonas Hiller eventually overtook him and took the starter’s job.

He sees no real option to being a good pro.

“It’s not my personality to be a bad guy. I don’t really go in trying to be a mentor. I’m obviously not his coach. He’s got a really good goalie coach. I just try to be here and do my thing, show a good example that he can maybe learn from. But at the end of the day, I want to play too.”

Tonight’s game promises a great deal. Devils goalie Martin Brodeur has righted himself after a shaky Olympics and the Devils boast two 30-plus goal scorers in Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise.

The Devils are coming off a 5-2 win last night over Pittsburgh. The Devils dominated the Stanley Cup champs, winning all six of their games.

Since he returned from a shoulder injury Nov. 3, Phil Kessel has had the most shots in the NHL.

Nikolai Kulemin is playing his best hockey in nearly two years in Toronto. He has at least a point in six straight games and has four goals and four assists in that span.

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