James van Riemsdyk and P.A. Parenteau scored for Toronto in regulation in what might have been the end of the line — for now — for goalie Garret Sparks. By the time the Leafs play again next Tuesday, Jonathan Bernier’s conditioning stint in the AHL will be over and James Reimer’s sore groin may have healed. But the rookie Sparks showed the Leafs some promise in his four-game audition.
To many, the Devils are the surprise team of the Eastern Conference through the first third of the season. They came into the game in eighth place in the conference, holding down the second seed. New coach John Hynes has emphasized offence while the team rides the stellar goaltending of Cory Schneider.
The Devils scored first, with ex-Leaf Lee Stempniak deflecting a shot on the powerplay. Parenteau, however, beat Schneider with a knuckleball of a shot from the blue line, the kind of soft goal that has often victimized Leaf netminders.
Both teams scored once in the second; van Riemsdyk with a deflection and Kyle Palmieri with a wrist shot as the Devils powerplay connected twice.
Even though Lamoriello is the Leafs GM, he hasn’t had much to do with the make-up of the team. Outside of Michael Grabner and some clean-shaven faces, it was more or less set by the time he was hired.
“We realize this one has a special meaning for him,” said van Riemsdyk. “The things he’s done since he’s been here, he’s been great as far as getting the players everything they need to be successful. In tough situations you try to pull together as a group. You want to win every game, but sometimes they have different meanings to different people.
“He’s hands on, completely wants to help. A lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that as player you really appreciate, making sure the players come to the rink, work hard and not have to worry about anything else.”
“With Lou, the thing I was really taken aback by is when we get there in the morning for practice he’s there having a coffee,” said Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly. “He’s the first one there, and the last one to leave. He’s an extremely hard worker. He’s around the team a lot more than I thought he’d be.
“I didn’t really know what to expect of him. He’s having a coffee, talking to the guys, a positive attitude, a positive approach. It’s really rubbing off. He’s a huge part of the change in culture. He deserves as much credit as anybody.”
“Shanahan talked to me,” said Babcock. “Lou’s a good man. The perception of Lou and the reality of Lou are two different things. I think he kind of likes it that way. I enjoy being around him a lot. He’s a steady influence. He knows what he wants. He’s good people. He expects a lot out of people.”
Meanwhile, his DNA was all over the Devils, many of whom now sport beards and play a more offensive game.
“It’s a little weird feeling for me,” said Elias. “I’ve been with him for 19 years. Went through some great times and some rough time but we went through it and we have huge respect for each other. The responsibility defensively, the commitment we had here under Lou, I think it’s planted here for all those years, all the guys. The guys still have it in their blood.”
“It’s weird,” said van Riemsdyk. “Even last year we had all those back-to-backs, we never had breaks like this. This is our second or third one with five days between games. When you get a stretch in the schedule like this you use it top your advantage to make sure you use that week to get healthier and make sure you’re sharp.”