A lot of players might be tempted to write it off as just another game in an 82-game schedule.
Not David Clarkson
The reality is Friday's home game against his former team, the New Jersey Devils
, is special even if the 29-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs
winger insisted he'll simply go out and try to do his job, which of late has been to check the other team's top scorers.
"I was there for a long time and I have a lot of friends there," Clarkson said. "I have the utmost respect for Mr. Lamoriello [the Devils GM] and I have been lucky enough to play for that coaching staff there. [Head coach] Pete DeBoer is someone I believe has made me successful in my career by giving me an opportunity and believing in me and understanding me as a person. I think he is the reason that I have played in the NHL."
Clarkson has been playing his typical rambunctious game since returning from a 10-game suspension for leaving the bench to fight in the pre-season, but has little to show for his effort. In five games the former Devil has just one assist with 12 shots on goal.
Based on the lines the Maple Leafs have employed at practice this week, he'll likely skate with centre Nazem Kadri and left-winger Mason Raymond when he faces the Devils.
Although he was a 30-goal scorer with New Jersey two years ago and was expected to chip in on offence the past few years after breaking in as a checker and fighter, Clarkson's role with Toronto has been altered slightly.
"[Coach] Randy [Carlyle] has had me playing a different role," Clarkson said. "He had me, [David] Bolland and [Mason] Raymond playing against the other team's top line and basically wanting us to shut them down. Whatever the coach asks you to do, that's what you do. He's your boss and you go out there and do what he asks."
Coach Carlyle said Clarkson is a bit of a work in progress.
"I saw energy and a guy who is committed to playing the body, but also a guy who looks like he missed the first 10 games of the season in some situations," Carlyle said. "We just want him to continue to grow and be a physical player and a player we can count on night in and night out. That's what his vision is also."Fraser ready to go
Another former Devil, defenceman Mark Fraser
, would love to get the tap on the shoulder to play against New Jersey on Friday. The six-foot-four, 220-pound tough guy has been out since the second game of the season with a knee injury, but is ready to go.
Fraser said he'd love to get a chance to prove to his former team that it was wrong to let him go. Drafted 84th overall by New Jersey in 2005, Fraser played 98 games with the Devils.
"It probably carries a little bit more emotion," Fraser said of possibly playing against his former team. "I guess a lot of it has to do with how you parted with the team, but you always want to put up a good showing and showcase yourself and show the opposition perhaps what it is they are missing out on.
"There wasn't any bad blood, but why I left was because I wasn't playing. I was basically told I wouldn't be playing that much. I am thankful to have come from there and the organization helped me become the defenceman I am today. I was definitely hoping to play there longer than I did, but I couldn't be happier to be here today."
Fraser said his goal is to play the next game, but it remains a coach's decision. The Maple Leafs have two extra defenceman -- Fraser and John-Michael Liles.
"If I feel as good as I did today, I believe I am ready to go," Fraser concluded.
Asked if he believes the Maple Leafs need the physical element Fraser brings to the table, Carlyle took the opportunity to critique the entire team.
"I think we need physical [play], we need puck moving, I think we need to quit the turnovers, I think we have to get back to a more workmanlike game and quit the cute game we have been trying to play," Carlyle said.T.J. Brennan watch
Defenceman T.J. Brennan continues to light it up for the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League. On Tuesday night he had two goals and an assist as the Marlies won 5-2 in Utica. That gives him 10 goals and 15 points in 10 games.
The six-foot-one, 214-pound Brennan signed with the Maple Leafs as a free agent this past summer after spending last season split between Buffalo and Florida. He has practiced with the Maple Leafs this season, but has not seen any NHL action.
Carlyle said the Leafs are aware of what Brennan is doing in the AHL and admitted the thought of calling him up has crossed the minds of Leafs management.
"There's always the temptation to access players that are having success in the AHL," Carlyle said. "Ten goals is quite an accomplishment for a young defenceman. The one thing that jumps out about him is his shot. He can shoot the puck a ton."Aging Devils
New Jersey, which will be playing on back-to-back nights following Thursday's game in Philadelphia, is led by a handful of greybeards. Jaromir Jagr, 41, leads the Devils in scoring with 10 points in 14 games while defenceman Merek Zidlicky, 36, is second with nine points in 14 games. Veteran Patrik Elias, 37, is tied for third with seven points in 10 games.
Goaltender Martin Brodeur is 41, centre Dainius Zubrus is 35 and right-winger Michael Ryder is 33, but often plays like he is older.
Still, Carlyle said the Devils are not a team to be taken lightly.
"We have ample proof on video that they are a hard-working group and they are a proud group," he said. "That franchise has won a lot of hockey games and has been an elite franchise in the league."
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