It would appear Toronto has turned a new leaf in 2010/11 and with the latest result against the powerhouse Pittsburgh Penguins the nation of Leafs Bashers have to be getting nervous after seeing the Toronto Maple Leafs hold off the Pens for a hard fought one goal victory. We haven’t seen this type of effort from a Leafs team in quite some time and it was refreshing to say the least as the Leafs improve to 3-0.
The Leafs should have been leading after the first period, forcing the Pens into a ton of turnovers and pressuring them in every zone on the ice, even winning 10 of 14 one-on-one puck battles. However, they left the ice somehow trailing 2-1 after holding the Pens without a shot for the first eleven minutes or so.
Heading into the third period, the Leafs were leading 4-3 after a skilful goal scored by the wonder kid Sydney Crosby but again the Leafs probably deserved a larger lead. The Leafs held a slim one goal lead the big question was whether the Leafs could play a solid final period and keep control of the game and ultimately win the game. The Pens completely dominated the second half of the game as the Leafs managed only 14 total shots but they weren’t as soundly outplayed as the shot clock might have suggested.
Colton Orr (1), Clarke MacArthur 2 (4), Francois Beauchemin (1)
Some more musings and observations from the Leafs effort tonight:
-All comparisons to last season’s Maple Leafs have to cease, immediately. This isn’t the same roster, let alone the same “attitude” and the comp has no value or meaning to me. Gone are Matt Stajan, Alex Ponikarovsky, Nik Hagman, Lee Stempniak, Jason Blake, Jamal Mayers, Ian White, Jeff Finger and most importantly Vesa ‘the sieve’ Toskala. Looking at the special teams improvement so far (early on) and I almost have to apologize to Ron Wilson, maybe it really wasn’t his fault and the needed troops just weren’t at his disposal. This current version has well defined roles, vision and most importantly heart.
-So Clarke MacArthur can play, scoring another pair of impressive goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Brought in by Brian Burke at a ridiculous bargain basement price after the Atlanta Thrashers walked away from his arbitration award at season’s end, he is showing he can be a reliable scoring winger for the Leafs so far. He does more than score, he is fairly sound position wise and isn’t hesitant to take the body occasionally. One on play tonight he was the lead fore checker and laid a nice hit on a Penguin defenseman and about ten seconds later was the man touching the puck to secure an icing call.
-Colton Orr is willing to bang, more so than even some of the toughest heavyweights and from time to time he is prone to get decked, well it happened tonight. Against an unknown opponent Orr was soundly dropped at the end of a spirited and lengthy bout that Orr was probably winning at the time. It happened last year unbeknownst to most fans against Jody Shelley, Orr left with what Ron Wilson will likely call “getting his bell rung” but he’ll be back. Tough break, he played a solid first period.
-The fourth line was again terrific with Mike Brown showing great speed and fore checking ability, Colton Orr tipping in a Luke Schenn point shot and Mike Zigomanis winning draws and playing a sound defensive game. The Leafs were led by their bottom six forward last seasons and so far this season the third and fourth liners are again leading the charge.
I like seeing the bottom six engage and play physical hockey with the other teams better more skilled players, that is a key going forward. This team has to be tougher to play against and I don’t mean for the opposing tough guy having to face Colton Orr, Jay Rosehill or Mike Brown I mean the top skilled guys knowing they will be in for a tough night against the Leafs sand paper. Mike Brown played quite a few important shifts down the stretch on the top line in place of Phil Kessel to add some more defensive ability to the top unit.
-Tyler Bozak hasn’t been overly impressive so far but Phil Kessel and Kris Versteeg have picked up the slack and have made a pretty decent first line although they were basically invisible all game versus the Pens. The second line was again impressive with Nik Kulemin using his big frame to win puck battles and Clarke MacArthur showing surprisingly impressive skill and speed and has scored four goals already while Mikael Grabovski has been the weak link on that line. Brian Burke has to be on the prowl for a top end centre and with the recent demotion of Jeff Finger freeing up approximately four million valuable cap space dollars he at the very least has his fishing line in the water.
-Luke Schenn and Tomas Kaberle have been an impressive pairing thus far with Kaberle showing his normal slick puck moving skills and Schenn using his big frame to knock opponents off the puck. Why a team wouldn’t pony up a reasonable forward for the ultra skilled Kaberle is a head scratcher, when you factor in his contract, maybe it is best we kept him. Dion Phaneuf and Francois Beauchemin gave up a couple goals tonight but for the most part have looked the part of top defence pairing and hopeful shutdown duo.
-Jonas Gustavsson looked a bit rusty and didn’t quite play up to the lofty level that starter JS Giguere has shown in his first two starts of the season. The jury is still out on the Monster whether he will develop into the number one goalie the Leafs hope and it has to beg the question as to the Leafs plans in the offseason when Giggy’s contract is up. Gustavsson settled down in the third as the Pens were pressing hard to tie the game and the Leafs were getting hemmed in and held without a shot for sixteen plus minutes at one point he was actually pretty stellar down the stretch and made several timely saves.
-A lot of money is tied up in the backend and it is a tad worrisome to see Mike Komisarek and his 4.5 million dollar cap hit playing sparing minutes on the third pairing with Carl Gunnarsson. You would have to think if a team came to Burke looking to snag Komi away it wouldn’t take much at this point, but I doubt many teams are willing to eat that contract.
-Cool to see a new arena in Pittsburgh and the team deserves a shiny new rink but the ice was awful tonight. Maybe that explains the completely awful Dave Andreychuk looking penalty shot attempt by Evgeni Malkin in the second period?
-Not to be a buzz kill but one has to point out that the Leafs caught the Canadiens, Sens and Penguins without a few key players, but that is just nitpicking at this point and the Leafs have deserved every point they have earned so far with a solid, relentless effort at all ends of the ice. Kudos to the Buds!