The Toronto Maple Leafs picked up a fourth consecutive win as they topped the "Pittsburgh Penguins" for the second time in a week. Once again they came back from a two goal deficit but instead of capitalising on a five-minute major they punished the Penguins for repeated icings. After Viktor Stalberg helped Mikhail Grabovski win a scrambled draw Francois Beauchmin fired a shot on goal. The deflection bounced to Nazem Kadri who roofed it with just over a minute left.
After a frantic overtime - seriously, this is almost always the best hockey in a game - that almost saw Beauchemin give away the game with a brutal icing the game headed to a shootout. That set the stage for Nazem Kadri to punctuate his performance with a game-winner just as Luke Schenn did against the St. Louis Blues about a year ago. He made his signature backhand to forehand move and left Curry grasping at shadows. Vesa Toskala stopped two Penguins before Lee Stempniak slid the Leafs' final shot through the tender's legs.
Wilson's press conference was filled with gems and Archi was kind enough to pass along some of the best remarks.
He made a great play to tie the game. I don’t think this was one of his better games. Just being in the right spot at the right time. That's why he's a 1st round pick. If he goes back to junior, I'd be shocked if he didn’t get 100 points. He's very confident in a positive way, that's why I threw him out there for the shootout.
It's pretty clear that Kadri can do a lot of things right in the offensive end. He's shown some great vision with his passing during camp and his two goals have displayed a real goal scorer's touch. However, he's fighting an uphill battle to make the team and it's largely in part to his lack of size:
I suspected he'd be dynamic. You saw an example against a better team the other night, he got crushed repeatedly. This is a very violent and very big league. The purpose of this is to teach him that the weight room is an important part of the development process.
Kadri is determined to make the decision as difficult as possible for the coach:
Just trying to make the decision hard, I appreciate Ron putting me out in big situations, it's just building my confidence. I love to step up to the game in any situation. I'd love to get the 9 regular season games, just to experience the pace. Either way, I support their decision.
I mentioned it when I was at the draft but Kadri's attitude about training camp has been exemplary. He has consistently stated that he wants to give his absolute best effort to make the decision about his future as difficult as possible. The astonishing maturity comes through when you see that he realises why sticking around longer would be so beneficial:
All I can take from this is experience. Great opportunity. I play with passion, and all these guys brighten it up a little bit. Professional hockey players, really know how to carry themselves on and off the ice.
When it comes to the performance of the kids there are a couple schools of thought. The first is obviously that they'll be better served being thrown into the deep end and learning on the job. However, I think that the following basically sums up the issue for Wilson. He seems to be a proponent of bringing the kids along slowly:
I had a lot of young guys out there, that’s what this is for, to see how they react. I think Kadri and Bozak especially can eventually be magical players for us. I think they all looked a little tired tonight, they aren't as fast as they were last week. But that's all part of it. Most of the kids will be playing tomorrow, so we'll see how they respond. That's the test they're under. I expect Buffalo to ice a very good team tomorrow, I hope our kids play great. I think we're better off than last year. You saw a lot of blind plays there tonight, blind pass outs from behind the net, all this stuff is good in Junior and in college, but it doesn’t work in the NHL. Maybe a few of these guys would make the team last year, but we're better off now.
To me that says that Kadri is going back to London to learn and the Marlies are going to be quite the attraction this winter. Actually, when it comes to one player it certainly doesn't seem like a question what is going to happen:
Probably starting out the year in the Minors. You don’t see the times he doesn’t back check or doesn't get it out along the boards. You'll see the nice goal and you see him skating past people. Its not all about scoring goals. A lot of young players didn’t have to do that in college and the minors, but everybody has to do that stuff up here.
Stalberg himself realises that he has to improve every day and Wilson is absolutely giving him every opportunity to do so:
Every time you get a chance to play, it could be your last game of the preseason. Play every shift like its your last. I couldn't picture it going any better out of camp. I'm just trying to make the most of it. When you come in seeing guys like Kaberle and Stajan, it gets nerve wracking, those are guys that I was idolizing a few years ago. It fets a little easier as camp keeps progressing. I feel a little better every day.
Wilson was also extremely pleased with the actions of the Leafs' two big defensive signings. Both Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek took on Penguins in addition to their regular duties:
You have a guy like Beachemin fighting in a game like this, same with Mike. Your two best and biggest defenders fighting, I don't really want to see it because of injury, but I appreciate the efforts to show youngs guys how to play in this league.
A lot of the comments in the game day thread centred on a couple of the young guys from last year. After a season destroying AHL competition most of us expected more from Jiri Tlusty. And it goes without saying that Nikolai Kulemin is expected to improve on his performance from last year. So far we haven't really had our skirts blown up but Wilson is keeping the faith:
I want to see more. I'm going to keep playing him and giving him opportunities to do it. Would have been next up in the shootout.
Had some great shifts tonight. Missed the net a few times, probably playing a little tight. Needs to relax. He plays better with Poni on the ice.
The start to the game that saw the Leafs overrun and Toskala not look his best was mitigated as the game progressed and the Leafs got in the swing of things. The shootout was really a nice difference compared to last year and Wilson attributes a lot of that to the Leafs' new goaltending coach:
Important for him to stop two in the shootout. That's the positive effect from Francois. Wasn't moving all over the place. Really settled down after the 1st. Francois is a little hard on the goalies, but how many Cup rings does Allaire have? It's all about winning.
The Leafs once again got into a couple of scraps. One of the funnier moments of the night came when Mike Komisarek picked Jordan Staal up from the ice just so that he could beat on him. I know it was maybe a bit of an overreaction but when you hit a guy and his teammate jumps in you have to expect the worst. While it might have been more than was needed it was a vital part of waking the Leafs up:
We're setting a tone for the season. Physical play and toughness. Took their lineup for granted a bit. We responded and got better.
Der Komissar also mentioned that the fight amongst the kids during camp has had a big effect on the veterans:
Kadri, Hanson, Stalberg, Bozak, all are playing like they have nothing to lose. Open minds, ready to learn. That youthful enthusiasum has spread.
As Komisarek noted, the Leafs certainly started off sluggishly. The shots were 9-1 against before Pierre McGuire interviewed Ron Wilson on the bench and gave him a pulpit to express his anger. Jay Rosehill and Komisarek's scraps definitely seemed to energise the team. From the third period on the forwards especially had more jump and created a lot more opportunites. On the back end the defence looked more organised and cut down on the mistakes that led to the two Penguins goals.
So the Leafs improve to 4-1 this pre-season. It may not count for much - the 2008 Detroit Lions went 4-0 during the pre-season before setting a record for going winless - but the individual performances have to give Leaf fans heart that their team is not destined to finish 29th.