The Leafs finished up their first week of the season with an 0-2-1 record after losing last night to the Senators in an absolutely great-to-watch Saturday Night debut. Saturday night hockey is pretty much the best thing in the world (regardless of what I may or may not think about the new Hockey Night in Canada) after six months off, it was nice to have a game to watch last night after eating Thanksgiving Dinner.
The Leafs dominated the first period, should have probably had a goal or two, let in three quick ones in second but responded fantastically to tie the game back up. Sure, they lost, but so what? Like I mentioned before the great part of having low expectations is that you don’t have to be so result oriented. If you like hockey, that was a fun game to watch and that’s all you can ask for from a rebuilding team.
Best part of the Game:
For sure it was the effort and spirit of the team to come back down 3-0 and to tie it again (which might actually be harder) after going down 4-3. I also liked to see a third consecutive strong game from Jake Gardiner and I thought he and Phaneuf looked great partnered together.
That pass from Phaneuf to Bozak also bears mentioning, and no complaints from me tonight about Bozak,who will be easily tradable if he keeps playing like that. One thing I noticed (because of waronice.com game reports) is that in the first two games, Bozak played mostly with Lupul and Matthias, and a roughly equal amount of all six defensemen. Whereas, last night it was JVR and Komarov as his most common linemates, and Gardiner/Phaneuf as his by-far most common defensemen. I think that if the Leafs want to trade Bozak (and I am 99% positive that they do) they need to keep him with Komarov, Gardiner and Phaneuf.
Also, 3 on 3 overtime was even better than I anticipated. I thought it was an absolute blast and can’t wait to see more.
Worst Part of the Game:
I thought that there was no worst part of last night’s game. I can’t sit here and complain about ice-time after every single game as the Leafs clearly need to use certain players in certain situations if they’re going to be able to move them.
I obviously don’t think allowing three goals in such a short time span is ideal, but you have to remember that the Ottawa power-play is deadly and they were all power-play goals. Reimer to me was OK and they outscored the Senators 3:1 at even-strength.
Week in Review:
The Leafs might have started the season 0-3 but I think that you have to remember that in a rebuilding season the record is mostly irrelevant. I would have said, and did say, that it would be impossible for this team to make the Playoffs, but after the first week I’d downgrade that from “impossible” to “improbable.”
Against the Canadiens they won the possession game and were only denied a win because Carey Price outplayed John Bernier. Although to be fair to Bernier, he was excellent after that first cheap goal.
Against the Red Wings, the Leafs were down 4-0 on 11 shots and lost because their goalie had a horrible game. The game was winnable if they got a little luck and a better performance from their goalie.
Finally, they lost a coin-flip in a shootout to a far better team last night. They showed great spirit in bouncing back from three straight PP goals and could have won. So sure, the team is 0-3 but they could just as easily be 3-0. That isn’t an excuse either, it’s the reality – this team almost never won the possession game in any of the last three seasons, and moral victories were few and far between. This season – though it’s only three games in – they look like a whole new team (and they do have ten new players).
For me, the biggest positive is Jake Gardiner. There is no doubt who the Leafs best defenseman is at this point in time. He’s been excellent in all three games, and has excellent possession numbers to start the season.
The second biggest positive is Nazem Kadri. He’s only got the one point, but he’s been robbed by goalies, had linemates flub sweet passes, and he’s playing with an aggressive edge that is nice to see. Last night his most common linemates were Boyes and Grabner, and the most common defense that played with him was the brutal Polak/Marincin combo, so I don’t know what he’s really supposed to do to score, but I’ve liked his game so far.
The Leafs are off until Friday, which is ridiculous, but it might be interesting to see what happens, roster-wise in the almost-week off.
Thanks for reading.
Covering the Leafs for the Hockey Writers.