HOCKEY IS BACK
The only fair thing to do after a performance like last night's is to force the Leafs to tear apart this juggernaut. No one likes watching a sport dominated by one single team. The Maple Leafs 4-1 win was a marker to the rest...of the players in training camp. While Tuesday's squad looked listless, lost, and lame last night's team was ready to go from the opening face off and showed an incredible amount of list.
The Leafs' defensive effort was vastly improved and about what you would expect as the team's top three defensive defencemen - Francois Beauchemin, Mike Komisarek, and Luke Schenn - dressed and made life difficult for Ottawa's forwards all night. The Senators only mustered 18 shots on goal and took a number of hard rides into the boards.
I was lucky enough to be at the game so there's some video and some thoughts after the jump.
I love hearing the anthem in Toronto
Nikolai Kulemin gets the Leafs off to a good start
For the second straight night the Maple Leafs drew a tonne of Senators penalties. That's obviously a good sign. An even better sign is that last night the Leafs actually scored some goals on the powerplay. The first one is a bit of a broken play but, along with Luca Caputi's, the pattern was set: create traffic, shoot low and hard, and look for rebounds. It all sounds so familiar.
For the second straight night the Leafs' penalty kill looked good but they have yet to face any top forwards. As good as Nick Foligno has played he is no Jason Spezza or Daniel Alfredsson. However, there seems to be an increased focus on puck pressure as well as improved communication. I did notice that while the team spends the majority of their time in a box they did still move into a diamond at times. The big difference was that the players were hustling to cover the open spot. The real test will come against a top PP unit that can move the puck much faster.
One of the highlights of the night was watching the antics of Francis Lessard. After a clear charge on Mikhail Grabovski he punched Jesse Blacker in the face and ragdolled Danny Richmond. I was pretty steamed that nothing happened to him and then Komisarek took care of things:
Komisarek embarrasses some chump
Even better was when he broke his stick on a clearing attempt, chased after Jay Rosehill in an attempt to fight, thought better of it (possibly because of the video below), and then ran into a teammate causing him to do a hilarious pirouette before bailing in front of his team's bench.
Rosehill kills David Hale
Jesse Blacker and Francois Beauchemin each picked up a couple of assists running the powerplay. Blacker was front and centre all night as it seemed the puck was chasing him around the ice. He still looks pretty rough but he handled his mistakes well. Luke Schenn had an okay game with the most intriguing aspect being the powerplay time that he received. He seems more confident with the puck and he made a pretty nice dangle around a couple of Senators down low. The Andy Frost show was abuzz with the possibility of Schenn building on that aspect of his game.
The goalies, James Reimer and Ben Scrivens, were barely tested but when they were they used their big bodies to get the job done. For me though the real story was among the forwards. Gym Tan Luca Caputi looked like a player that put his summer to good use. He seems to have recognized the opportunity that he has been presented and he seemed stronger on the puck and quicker. His goal and assist were a result of good hands and quick bursts of speed. Mikhail Grabovski, it goes without saying, was one of the better forwards on the night. He apparently has been bugging Wilson to let him kill penalties and his quick feet seemed well suited.
Tyler Bozak, Nikolai Kulemin and Phil Kessel were about what you would expect. The latter two embarrassed Erik Karlsson as they blew by him on consecutive plays. The chemistry from last season is still readily apparent. The grinders did a decent enough job as well although the amount of power plays broke up the rhythm of their ice-time. Poor Colton Orr looked desperate to join in the fun from these two games but with the ACC showing highlights of the Sheriff creating Zombie Carkner no one was willing to tango. John Mitchell, Alex Foster, Darryl Boyce, and Jay Rosehill did well enough. The latter did so well that one called into Andy Frost's show suggested a fourth line of Mike Brown, Jay Rosehill, and Colton Orr. Andy politely noted that none of them can play centre and it might be too late in their careers for one of them to learn. The next discussion was about the 2011 UFA class. Jesus wept. Hockey is definitely back!