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Phaneuf Has Turned His Game Around

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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Dion Phaneuf looked a little irritated, Tuesday night.

A minute into a critical game against the Buffalo Sabres, Phaneuf found himself with the puck at his own blue line. He advanced to the Buffalo blue line, found himself in a two-on-two- and then rocketed a shot that sailed by the great Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller.
Before Dec. 9
Games 12
Goals 0
Assists 4
Points 4
Plus/Minus -4
PPG .33
x82 Games 27

This did not irritate him. It came as close as something will to making Phaneuf break out into a grin.

The scowl came after the game, the media types asked him about what they considered a fluky goal.

He looked like someone had barfed in his car.

“I got all of it,” he said. “I didn’t see it hit anything on the way in.”

If you think that you’ve blown a puck past the best goalie in the world from sixty-four feet away, if you treat the notion that he didn’t whiff on it, that your shot went by him like a bullet train, then you sir have got your mojo back.

To Dion Phaneuf, the hockey world has a message: welcome back, big guy.

There is little that links the Dion Phaneuf the Leafs landed last January to the current model save for the unfathomable up in the middle haircut. Clearly, the player who came to the Leafs from Calgary seemed initially unwilling to let loose with one of the hardest shots in the game, let alone golf it toward Ryan Miller from an area code away.

But neither was he a defensive liability.
After Dec. 9
Games 49
Goals 8
Assists 18
Points 26
Plus/Minus +4
PPG .53
x82 Games 43

Phaneuf was minus-two in 26 games for the Leafs last year. Not bad for a player who played nearly half a season for a struggling outfit.

This season, Phaneuf is again -2 and he has played against the best offence his opponents could offer on a nightly basis.

His average of 25:02 is 12th in the NHL but as the graph shows, Phaneuf’s game soared with paired with the long-armed Aulie.

It is a wonderful bit of chemistry. “Aulie seems to have settled Dion down,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson and while the play of goalie James Reimer has buffed everyone’s statistics, it is also true that Aulie, a defence first player whose decisions belie his rookie status, has served as a planet Phaneuf can orbit around.

Easily forgotten in appraising a defenceman’s work is the presence of a good partner. It is sheer chemistry in that it is largely impossible to predict and can inflict substantial damage if it blows up.

But as the Leafs head into Boston and into the realm of gigantic defender Zdeno Chara and another crucial game, they shall not want. Their right and left defenceman will comfort them.

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