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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