This year, for the Toronto Maple Leafs will have a lot of highs and lows—probably more of one then the other.
But after Monday's shelling of the Buffalo Sabres, there seems to be some optimism. Here is the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of what to expect this preseason.
1. Luke Schenn and Justin Pogge
It is still early in the season, but there is a lot of promise being shown already this pre-season. Luke Schenn logged twenty minutes of ice time in his first game, and was a plus-two on the night. He showed poise and was calm on the ice, and was always positioned soundly—which is great, considering he is still only 18.
Another promising sight was the play of Justin Pogge. In the second period, Pogge showed the promise that made him a number-one prospect for the past two years in the Leafs system. He turned away 15 shots in that frame, while making a couple amazing saves that show glimpses of what he can be.
These performances lead me to predict that Pogge—even though he did well—will start the regular season in the minors as the starting goalie. Schenn, if he can keep up the good play from the first game, will likely start the season with the Leafs—but after a couple games will go back to the minors for the year.
2. No Smelly Finger
In his first game, Jeff Finger was—to say the least—solid. He displayed the type of play that warrants the big contract he received in the offseason. He did exactly what we signed him for—he blocked shots, he kept people away from the front of the net, and he was positionally sound.
3. Speed and Forecheck
I am proud to say that for the first time in years, the Leafs aren't the slowest team in the league. They were fast—really fast—and forechecked relentlessly. They were always in the face of the other team, always going hard, and nobody was scared of getting their hands dirty.
4. Shades of Darcy Tucker in Ryan Hollweg
I am not saying that Hollweg is as good as Tucker by any means. The man still can't score, but he can hit and cause problems.
In the first half of the game, he pissed off Andrew Peters so much Peters was kicked out of the game with 22 PIMs. The last player I remember who was that much of a sh*%-disturber was a young Darcy Tucker.
If Hollweg can learn not to take stupid penalties, he will be a huge asset to the Leafs this year.
1. Where In The World Was Nikolai Kulemin?
In the entire game on Monday, I only heard the name Kulemin once. He was absent the whole game. When the game was over, after a surprising win, I was left to ask—where was Kulemin?
I don't know why, but Ron Wilson decided to have him play on the Fourth Line with players like Ondrus and Boyce. Nikolai Kulemin isn't like Ovechkin or Malkin—he will need time to adapt to the different-sized ice surface and the speed of the NHL game. I give it ten games until you see the real Kulemin on the ice.
2. Cujo Looked a Little Rusty
I am as happy as the next person that Curtis Joseph is back. Before the game started, I was yelling at the T.V. "Cujo, Cujo!" just like everybody else, excited to see the former starter back in the Blue and White.
Sadly, he didn't have the form I remember, letting in a goal in the first minute of the game on a shot from Marek Zagrapan. He stopped the rest of the shots that period—four in all—but I frequently saw Cujo not square his body to the puck, and sometimes looking awkward in net.
Personally, I think it's rust which he gathered by not playing last year. He'll be back to good playing shape by preseason's end.
3. Bad Penalties, Along with a Bad Penalty Kill
One problem that I didn't see go away was the habit of taking bad penalties. It cost the Leafs three goals, and almost let the Sabres back in the game.
The Leafs had a potent attack to counterpart the penalty problems, but what about the games when they can't score? I think Ron Wilson will straighten up the PK and the straighten up the players as well by preseason's end.
1. No Discipline
Overall, I will admit I loved how the Leafs looked. They were fast, physical, and high-scoring. But there was still a lack of discipline, and too many penalties were taken.
The power play was still good minus Bryan McCabe, but the penalty kill was still bad. I think they will get better on the PK, but it will be ugly until they do.
2. No Star Forwards
Dominic Moore was great, netting two goals, and everybody played their part in goal-scoring—but that was one game. I think over time we will see that this offense is lacking a top-notch forward.
They need that game-changing player that can do it all—and until they do, they won't be able to live up to the potential they showed on Monday on a consistent basis. Somebody needs to step up on the team, or Fletcher needs to add that player via draft or trade.
I like what I see so far. This is a fast, gritty team that makes plays with a solid forecheck and puck movement in the corners. There is obviously a plan in place to make this the style of play for the future.
There is still a long way to go, but we are on the right track. It should be an interesting year for the Blue and White.
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