Ron Wilson’s decision to start Vesa Toskala led directly to the Leafs defeat 4-3 in OT in the season opener.
The Leafs spent the majority of the game in the Canadians zone, yet every time the Canadians had a chance, Leaf fans cringed as Toskala doesn’t seem able to stop the puck from entering the Leaf net. Giving up his obligatory soft goal per game, Toskala looked mediocre at best in the opener continuing where he left off last year.
Toskala was the weakest of the three goalies in preseason. Why MacDonald who had a better save percentage with the Islanders last year and a better preseason didn’t start is really a travesty.
One can only hope that Wilson’s loyalty in the Toskala experiment does not last too long, waiting for Toskala to regain his form (and trying to maintain Toskala as a tradeable asset), before he plays himself off the team.
Michael Komisarek, displaying too much testosterone, is equally liable for the loss in a game that should never have had gone to OT. Komisarek’s undisciplined play directly led to Montreal’s power play goal and he could have easily been called on several other blatant infractions.
Two scripted fights involving Colton Orr and Jay Rosehill, that started the evening’s festivities really seemed like a hollow and superficial attempt by Toronto to send a message.
Team chemistry was really the issue at stake as both the Canadians and Leafs search for who will excel to lead their respective team into the playoffs. For both the Leafs and Canadians it is leadership by committee as they search for identity and a captain for their respective teams.
All three of Toronto’s top lines showed plenty of offensive prowess as they pinned the Canadians in their end for extended periods at a time. Stajan responded decisively in the first game playing center on Toronto’s top line- scoring two of Toronto’s goals.
Viktor Stalberg and Jason Blake also played well, generating many offensive scoring chances. In fact it is difficult to imagine who Kessel will knock off of the top three lines when he becomes healthy as there was good chemistry on all three forward lines.
Rickard Wallin seems to get stronger every game especially in a back checking role on the third line. Lee Stempniak his line mate also generated many scoring opportunities and even drew a penalty.
Mikhail Grabovski and Hagman seem made to play on the same line, finding a lot of free ice, and often looking dangerous, though it was Alexei Ponikarovsky who showed up suddenly to score a goal tonight.
The Leafs are very much a work in progress as they are counting on their young talent to earn a spot on the Leafs in the not too distant future, but Ron Wilson has begun the season playing mainly veterans who in the past have not performed to their potential. Expect many changes on the Maple Leafs during the year as players play themselves on and off the starting roster.
When Van Ryn, Finger, and Mayers return to health Toronto will have some difficult decisions who to keep on the team balancing financial equity and on ice performance to come up with a long term winning strategy.
Kessel very much seems like the calvary, for the Buds as for all the offensive opportunities the Leafs generated last night, a pure goal scorer might have scored another couple of goals easily. The Maple Leafs have lacked a finisher since the departure of recently retired Mat Sundin.
Inter-divisional matches in the Northeast division will take on added significance this year as Toronto, Montreal, Rangers and Ottawa have all made significant changes in personnel and all will be looking for an opportunity to knock out each other from the playoffs this year. All of these teams have significantly changed their roster to change the culture on their teams, trying to instill a winning chemistry.
Discipline really has to be Ron Wilson’s message that needs to get through to Komisarek and Exelby. XLB made several punishing hits on the Canadians and he tightened up his game considerably compared to his preseason performance, but took a bad penalty that changed the momentum of the game in the Canadians favor.
Francois Beauchemin had an uncharacteristically bad first game in a Leafs uniform making a bad play on the penalty kill that lead to the tying Canadians power play goal.
Strong goal tending is essential for the Leafs to have success early in the season to allow Wilson to make some coaching adjustments to eliminate breakdowns that tonight allowed the Canadians to steal the Leaf home opener.
But save for some discipline problems resulting in bad penalties the opener really was promising, as the Leafs were definitely the better of the two squads on home ice.