So, this is the Dion Phaneuf we’ve been waiting for. This is the guy that Flames’ fans saw in his rookie season. This is the guy who was Pierre McGuire’s "Monster" every single time he played. And, boy, did Dion ever pick the right time to find his game in Toronto. But there’s more to the Leafs’ D, right now, than just Phaneuf. It’s a Three-Headed Monster.
In Carolina, on Wednesday night, Phaneuf and Luke Schenn – with Mike Komisarek injured mid-game – showed Leafs’ fans what a great defence looks like. Combined, they skated 64 shifts and over 47 minutes against the Hurricanes. That includes over 18 combined minutes in the third period. Throw Keith Aulie into the mix (over 26 minutes – by far his most of the season), and that’s three absolute horses on Ron Wilson’s bench. That’s over 60% of the available minutes between just three guys. Anyone know how the Leafs acquired Phaneuf and Aulie? Just a little shot at the anti-Burke faction there.
Just a couple months ago, Phaneuf was being derided by Leafs’ followers from coast-to-coast. I wrote about how he reminded me of Barry Beck. Great rookie season, then all downhill from there. To me, the most impressive aspect of Phaneuf’s recent re-birth is that he’s done it at the toughest time of the season. It’s easy to step up in October. It’s a hell of a lot tougher to do it in March, in the heat of a playoff race. And Phaneuf hasn’t done it with his hips. He’s done it with his stick. This is the scoring that everyone remembers from his rookie season.
The year after the lockout, Phaneuf scored twenty times as an NHL rookie. That pair on Wednesday, in Carolina, were his 6th and 7th this season. That’s a far cry from twenty, but it’s a hell of a lot better than anyone anticipated before the all-star break.
On January 20th, Phaneuf had just one goal and seven assists – keeping in mind he missed over a month with that sliced leg. Today, he has seven goals, 19 assists. Why the change? The major aspect that coincides with Phaneuf’s resurgence is the arrival of James Reimer. As a defenceman, when you have full confidence in your netminder, wouldn’t you be a little more prone to head into the offensive zone? You would.
But who knows how that will play out tonight in Florida. With Komisarek out with a “lower body injury,” Brett Lebda will draw back in. I think we all know how Leafs’ fans feel about that. But there is no doubt that the Three-Headed Monster – Phaneuf, Schenn and Aulie – will again see major minutes in Florida on Thursday.
And, if Ron Wilson sticks with his plan and starts Jean-Sébastien Giguère, the Three-Headed Monster is going to have their hands full. Interpret that sentence any way you like.