Fredrik Sjostrom, then a member of the Phoenix Coyote, remembers an on-ice chat coach Wayne Gretzky convened at practice.
“Anyone here going to score 90 goals?” asked the most prolific scorer in NHL history.
“Then you’d better learn to play defence.”
Which brings us nicely to Joffrey Lupul
, whose arrival from Anaheim has coincided with much improved play on the Leafs first line, a unit guaranteed to see plenty of action tonight as the Leafs face the Pittsburgh Penguins at Air Canada Centre.
The numbers aren’t flattering, Lupul is minus two in his last six games but he has brought a big-body and big-game experience to the line. Lupul’s 39 post-season games is the highest among Leaf position players.
With abundant goalscoring in Philadelphia and Anaheim, Lupul managed three 20-goal seasons. He also scored 23 points in 39 post-season games. Those are nice numbers but not enough to buy defensive dispensation.
“If you want to be a one-way player you pretty well have to score a goal a game,” Lupul said. “You have to find other ways to help. Goals are a lot harder to come by late in the season and in the playoffs,” Lupul said. “The game becomes more physical. I know a lot of guys don’t have playoff experience and I want to be the guy who can help.”
Lupul missed an entire year with a back injury and a corresponding infection. He was shipped to the Leafs after 26 games back with the Ducks. Upping his minutes with the Leafs initially left him winded but he rebounded to score two goals the last time the Leafs played Pittsburgh.”I’ve felt great. If anything, I felt snakebit. I should have had a goal in every game.”
Sjostrom, a player making an NHL wage despite a two-goal 2010-2011, recognizes in Lupul a bit of a kindred spirit.
“The thing about the good defensive players is they are smart,” said Sjostrom, no stranger to the well-placed world. “He reacts really well in his own zone.”
For his part, Lupul says he has never encountered a player like Kessel and it’s not because of his defensive abilities.
“He’s a game-breaker. All you do with him is look to get him the puck. It doesn’t really matter where.”