It was a rare night for Toronto sports fans. They were treated to the Blue Jays continuing their playoff push with a huge win over the New York Yankees and to top it off, not one but two Toronto Maple Leaf games. Granted that these were preseason games, but it drove home the point that hockey is finally back.
There were two different games going as the Maple Leafs battled their Ontario rivals, the Ottawa Senators. The Blue and White were able to emerge victorious in both outings, one of which required overtime heroics to seal the deal.
Both matches held their fair share of excitement. They also showcased some of the players Leaf fans haven’t had the chance to see before. After watching and reviewing both games, I have come up with three thoughts.
Thought #1: P.A. Parenteau Makes his Presence Felt
The former Hab was bought out by the organization at the end of last season. He took a one-year offer with the Leafs this summer and has come into camp with a chip on his shoulder. He was mismanaged with Montreal last year and is poised to have a big season under a new head coach and a different system.
Parenteau looked the part of a player who was trying to impress as he netted two power-play goals. The former Avalanche player appeared to be hungry and fast and was able to make a very noticeable impact throughout the night. If Parenteau is able to rediscover his form from earlier in his career, a big season could be on the horizon.
Thought #2: It’s an Open Crease Battle Between Bernier and Reimer
Both goaltenders took to the nets on Monday night against the Ottawa Senators. Bernier took the ice in Toronto, while Reimer started over in Ottawa. The former looked good in his start and stopped 28 of 29 shots enroute to a Leafs win at home. Reimer was also solid before giving way to Garret Sparks to finish the game.
It’s going to be a dog fight for the starters job in Toronto. Babcock has put all players under the microscope, returning or otherwise. He’s going to weigh how each of the goalies do, then make his informed decision. History would dictate that Bernier would have the edge, but after a sub-par season last year, that may not be the clear cut case any longer.
Bernier signed his new two-year deal over the summer. Reimer has this year left before he becomes an unrestricted free agent There are a bevy of scenarios of how this could play out for the upcoming year, but it is clear that the goaltender who gives the team the best chance to win will be given the call.
Thought #3: Young Guns are Looking Much Improved
Preseason games are meaningless standings wise. They do however give coaches, management and fans the chance to see the young players the organization has acquired in action. There were a few that stood out and had great games throughout the night.
William Nylander, the Maple Leafs first round pick in 2014, looked bigger and faster in his second taste of exhibition hockey with the big club. He also set up a goal and displayed increased poise and good vision.
Connor Brown was a force on the ice for the Blue and White. He had a tremendous game and made the most of his time with top linemates James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak. The trio was able to work effectively in the offensive zone, with Brown’s vision and passing being a key to that success.
Others who impressed include defensemen Stuart Percy and Victor Loov. Percy had some good chances and made some solid plays to break out of the defensive zone. He was also able to pot a late goal that put the game out of reach for the Senators. Loov was also noticeable for most of the night. He made clear and accurate passes and was willing to throw his weight around and wouldn’t shy away from contact.
The teams younger stars will get the chance to make an impact as the preseason goes on. The same goes for the rest of the players. There was some good and some bad in both games. Babcock and the coaching staff will continue to evaluate who goes and which players will eventually making the opening night roster.