SUNRISE, Fla. — He hasn’t been a Maple Leaf for more than two years, but Alexei Ponikarovsky keeps an interest in the organization that gave him a footing in the NHL.
Ponikarovsky, competing in the Stanley Cup playoffs with the New Jersey Devils, certainly didn’t watch every Leafs game as Toronto crumbled in the final two months of the regular season, but paid enough attention to be taken aback by the Leafs’ plummet from playoff contention.
“It was kind of surprising, because I thought this probably would be the year (the Leafs returned to the playoffs) after they looked pretty good in the beginning,” Ponikarovsky said. “They were scoring a lot of goals, and doing well, and all of a sudden, boom.
“They didn’t get goaltending to help them in some games, and if they got some extra saves, maybe it would have been different.”
Perhaps. And general manager Brian Burke might not have had to acknowledge the need to acquire a goaltender in the off-season.
Ponikarovsky, who was drafted by the Leafs in 1998 and played in 477 games in blue and white, has settled in nicely with the Devils since being acquired from Carolina Hurricanes. Devils coach Peter DeBoer noted on Sunday the depth that Ponikarovsky and Steve Bernier have brought to the forward lines since both joined the team in January.
Ponikarovsky sold his Toronto house last summer, but owns land in the area and might build a new home one day. He’ll always have ties to the city, as he met his wife in Toronto and all of three of their kids were born there.