Toronto's had a decent pre-season. There have been signs of chemistry among the forward ranks and the lines seem to have come together. Newcomer Kris Versteeg has seemingly found a home with Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel while Nikolai Kulemin's partnership with Mikhail Grabovski provides a second offensive option. Christian Hanson has battled his way to the fourth line centre over John Mitchell and another newcomer Mike Brown looks set to join him and Colton Orr in providing the Leafs with a pretty pugnacious checking option.
On the back end, there has been a little less to be optimistic about defensively. Offensively Dion Phaneuf looks to have remembered how to put points on the board. Him and Tomas Kaberle have the powerplay improving. In terms of keeping the puck out of the net there is still a lot of progress left ot be desired but the pairings on paper look as strong as they ever have. Jean-Sebastien Giguere has seen limited time in the pre-season but he looked steady enough against Philadelphia. Jonas Gustavsson didn't come out flying as we had hoped he would but he's improved and on the whole they look certain to provide the Maple Leafs with their first season of .900+ sv% goaltending since before the lockout.
Which brings me to last night: No big deal. Teams lay stinkers every once in a while and I think that that was the first since the 5-0 drubbing against the Senators to start the pre-season. The Detroit Red Wings will be Stanley Cup contenders this year and the way that they absolutely choked the life out of the Leafs in the third - 16-4 in shots - to seal the win. As for Jussi Rynnas, I asked Justin Goldman (The Goalie Guild) to provide some thoughts on Rynnas' night out. Below is the short version and the long version comes after the jump.
They just left him in because it helps Allaire know what to work on and makes Rynnas mentally tougher. Plus the game doesn't mean anything in the standing so it's no big deal. He's not a fragile weenie baby haha.
What happened with Rynnas in tonight's game was no big deal and Leafs fans should not worry or lose faith in his long-term potential. It was simply a game that got away from him early. It happens with raw-skilled goalies all the time; they give up an early goal, get a little rattled, fail to track the puck effectively and then struggle to get into any kind of rhythm. That's why making the first save and controlling rebounds early is so important for a pro goaltender.
Remember, that game was still one of his first 60-minute performances on a smaller ice surface. The Red Wings had most of their big guns in the lineup, so the pace of the game and the talent he faced was probably the toughest in his life. So it's really important for Leafs fans to realize that these kind of games will happen when a goalie comes straight over from Europe. The transition process does not happen overnight. It took Jonas Gustavsson a good 4-5 months to get used to the smaller ice surface last year, and even today he's still learning a lot about NHL-level dynamics like seeing through bodies, dealing with traffic and handling back-door plays.
Great goalies have terrible games all the time. He's a professional. Of course the result will affect his confidence and upset him, but only until he hits the ice tomorrow and gets back to work. He's an enthusiastic, hard working goaltender with a great demeanor and this one pre-season game will only give him a thicker skin.
If you look back at what he has accomplished since his season ended in Assat, it has been quite the wild ride. He had a very successful summer, a strong training camp and a solid pre-season, until this game. Getting scored on seven times by what was basically Detroit's full lineup is nothing that leads me to believe he's any less of a top-flight prospect. Ultimately, the game was a learning process and gives Francois Allaire plenty to discuss and work on in tomorrow's practice.
So, I think that we've now established that keeping Jussi Rynnas in net for all seven goals was not a detrimental move and does not represent a set-back on his development.
As for the rest of the team, it was not a good performance. They struggled to get shots on goal at even strength, they broke down defensively repeatedly, and they scored a couple of beauties. The game provided a final chance for players like John Mitchell, Nazem Kadri, and Luca Caputi to make a case for a spot on the roster. They did not take it. Instead, Mitchell will be with the team as a 13th forward and Caputi will be making his way to Exhibition Station to start his year with the Marlies alongside the struggling wunderkid.
The two teams go again tonight and the Leafs will run out their opening night roster including surprise 3rd line centre, and I had to Google him to find out who he was, Tim Brent. Tonight will be another stern test but a loss should not disappoint fans too greatly out of hand. Of course, if Giguere gets lit up or the PK is awful again then it's not the best way ot head into the regular season.
Game in Six is below and share your thoughts on the highs and mostly lows from last night.