Opening Night: The Kids Are Alright

Courtesy of Sportsnet
Courtesy of Sportsnet

I have to admit I got a little excited this afternoon in anticipation of tonight’s pre-season game against the Bruins.  I love watching hockey…add the intrigue associated with the number of new players that have been added to the mix and I couldn’t wait to get home to watch…pathetic, perhaps.

Prior to the game; I heard Wilson’s comment; “we outlawed fighting in camp…we have some guys that are itching to go”.  I’m not against fighting in hockey and I generally like Wilson…I just thought it was dumb for the coach to come out and say what he did.  On the one hand, it was an entertaining comment and I’m glad we’ve got some tough guys to keep opponents in check but it’s the kind of stuff that won’t serve the Leafs well as it won’t be viewed favorably by NHL on-ice and head office officials.

The game…

If I were to summarize tonight’s performance with only a couple of thoughts I’d say that toughness and youth is what stood out.

I know it was only a pre-season game and we shouldn’t read too much into specific performances but Duthie on TSN got it right when they asked the panel “how many years in a row were there Leafs camps and pre-season games where there was absolutely nobody, especially up front, for fans to get excited about…we saw more in the 1st period than we have for several years…”.  He was bang on.  Aside from Schenn, the players of interest last year were Kulemin, Grabovsky and perhaps Frogren.  This season there is a longer and better list…I’m sure some will end up being much ado about nothing but…a few of the new acquisitions will give us reason to believe that we are truly coming out of the drought.  So, with that in mind, a few comments on specific performances.

Tyler Bozak:  Was noticeable on every shift.  He scored an “NHL goal”…in a short handed situation; he undressed Matt Hunwick and cleanly beat Dany Sabourin. 

Viktor Stralberg: Scored a nice goal as well (set up by Kadri)…but what impressed me most was his speed on the rush and his attention to defensive responsibilities….He was the first man back to help out on many occasions…

Nazem Kadri: Going into the pre-season; my expectation based on analysts comments was that this guy was a good pick but would be nowhere near ready for the NHL.  In his first big league game; he did not look out of place.  He was much tougher on the puck and the boards than I expected for a guy his size.

Truculence: Burke wanted and promised toughness…well he delivered.  We faired well in all 5 fights tonight.  Orr and Exelby were noticeable as they took the body whenever possible…Last year we had Hollweg…this year we have Orr, what a difference a year (and GM) make. 

Jason Allison: With 60 players in camp, Allison better hope that Wilson gives him more than 1 game to see what he can do.  Bob Mackenzie and others have said that Allison is going to have to be significantly better than the competition at centre – tonight I saw nothing.

Ian White: I tried to keep an eye on Ian White tonight.  He’s in tough again this season to crack the top 6 to start the season.  He has the type of heart that Burke likes and fans appreciate.  He did nothing tonight to help or hurt his case…Let’s hope he stands out a bit more as the rest of the pre season plays out. 

Jiri Tlusty: Another player I was curious about.  He ended up having a great season in the AHL.  Tonight, he still looked too one dimensional for the NHL.  And didn’t stand out like Bozak, Kadri and Stralberg who I thought he should be ahead at this point.  He’ll need to step it up if he has any desire to make the team this year.

Anyway; I wont go through the entire line up…there is a game almost every night between now and the season opener and TSM will keep an eye on how the team is coming together.  The new young guns put a stake in the ground tonight…if they keep it up, Wilson has some tough decisions to make.


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September 17, 2009 1:47 am

Allison was invisible,usually a player in his position has a head start and then tails off as the pre season progresses and the other players round into form.

September 17, 2009 7:23 am

I Agree with alot of what you had to say. Last year we Hit , but this year the hits seemed to hurt a bit….

Stalberg really stood out for me, I was thrown back a bit by Burkes comments, because he looked amazing. His speed size and skill was great.

Bozak looked really good too, and I liked Hanson using his body alot more, speed he complemented that line well early on.

Kadri looked lazy at first, but he really stepped up later in the game.

Allison well, He just isnt going to make this team, he did not look good and turned the puck over alot, he also could not stand on his two feet alot.
Overall good game…..

September 17, 2009 9:39 am

Thanks for the summary LT. I just saw the highlights but I think this game could be a harbinger of things to come. 5 goals, 5 fights. Leafs take the fights 3-2, opponent takes the goals 3-2. Opponent takes the points 2 to zip.

September 17, 2009 9:48 am

@Fluffy…Interesting way to look at it…though I hope you’re wrong on the losses point.

September 17, 2009 10:07 am

Me too.

September 17, 2009 11:11 am

Begin said it best in a post on Sportsnet:
“If you want to win a game you have to play hockey a little bit, too,” cautioned Begin.

Loved the spirit and the grit but you sure could tell the boys were out there hunting to get into some trouble and just itching to go.

Hopefully once the season starts Wilson will keep the games toughness level up, but stupid level down. Never have a problem with taking good penalties, and who doesn’t love the fights, but if we spend too much time in the box again this season we are toast before the halfway mark.

Play tough, but play smart too.

Oh, and agree with all that Allison looked SLOW as hell, and showed that brutal stick work – poking and hooking and pulling just like old times, the man is a penalty magnet everytime he loses the puck. He is simply not built for today’s NHL, period.

September 17, 2009 2:47 pm

@TSM: Did you slap Lance around until he agreed to the proper spelling? spot the Garnet 😉

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