TORONTO - By the end of the first period of his first game, Dion Phaneuf had landed a hit, a fighting major and an ovation. Had he managed anything more, fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs might well have elected him mayor, had they not already acclaimed his general manager for acquiring the big defenceman in a weekend trade.
Brian Burke's team had a good night Tuesday, as Phaneuf and his new teammates rolled over the New Jersey Devils 3-0 to snap a six-game winless streak. The Leafs beat their Eastern Conference rivals thanks in large part to the energy provided by Phaneuf, new forward Fredrik Sjostrom and goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
Giguere finished with 30 saves, becoming only the second goaltender in team history to record a shutout in his debut. Ed Belfour was the first, beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-0 on Oct. 10, 2002.
Burke acquired Phaneuf and Sjostrom from the Calgary Flames on Sunday, sending longtime Maple Leaf Matt Stajan to Alberta with forwards Niklas Hagman and Jamal Mayers and defenceman Ian White. Burke then landed Giguere from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for underperforming winger Jason Blake and underwhelming goaltender Vesa Toskala.
"Obviously, it's really tough to see some of your good friends and teammates go," Maple Leafs forward Lee Stempniak said before the game. "I guess it's really a breath of fresh air. The new guys who came in, they're excited to be here."
More changes could be expected, with Burke having proclaimed the team was still open for business. There are a handful of moves that could be made, with speculation swirling around veteran forward Alexei Ponikarovsky, to name one.
"I'm not worried, it's just the business," Ponikarovsky said. "If you get traded, that's the way it is. I just want to play hockey and have fun."
Fun is not a word that had been associated with the Leafs this year. Toronto followed an overtime loss in New Jersey on Friday with a soul-crushing defeat at home to Vancouver on Saturday, surrendering a three-goal first period lead en route to a 5-3 loss.
The team got off to another quick start on Tuesday, helped in no small part by one of the players acquired over the weekend. Forward Nikolai Kulemin gave the Leafs a 1-0 lead when he buried a Sjostrom rebound behind New Jersey goaltender Yann Danis.
Danis was making his first start since Nov. 21, giving star Martin Brodeur a rare night off. Brodeur, the likely starter for Canada's Olympic team in Vancouver, had appeared in 40 consecutive games - and had become only the second goaltender in NHL history to play in 15 or more games in consecutive months.
Phaneuf gave the crowd its second thrill of the game when he fought Devils defenceman Colin White. Air Canada Centre roared as Phaneuf skated to the box, chewing on his mouth guard as the beleaguered fan base's new favourite.
Phil Kessel gave the home side a 2-0 lead two minutes into the second when he popped an inviting rebound past a helpless Danis. Toronto made it 3-0 when Francois Beauchemin collected a pass in his skates and ripped a shot through Danis from the blue-line.
Phaneuf was hit in the leg by a shot late in the third period, but made it to the bench and did not miss a shift.
"We know what Dion is capable of, and what he can do," Ponikarovsky added before the game. "He's got a great shot. He's got good game vision. So it's a great addition."
NOTES: Even though defenceman Paul Martin (broken arm) withdrew from the U.S. Olympic team on Monday, the Devils are still set to send five players to Vancouver: Brodeur (Canada), defenceman Johnny Oduya (Sweden) and forwards Patrik Elias (Czech Republic), Zach Parise (USA) and Jamie Langenbrunner (USA). ... Leafs goaltender Jonas Gustavsson and Ponikarovsky were awarded the Molson Cup for January in a pre-game ceremony. ... Phaneuf finished the first period of his Toronto debut with 5:11 of ice time - and a five minute penalty.