Toronto Maple Leafs' Season Opener Produces Big Win and Bigger Questions
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The Toronto Maple Leafs opened their season with a shaky 2-0 win over the Montreal Canadians at the Air Canada Center. The crowd was certainly pleased with the outcome, but they should also be concerned about the the amount of rust on the skates of the forward lines.
The offense, though producing two goals, looked sloppy in the middle and offensive ends of the ice for fifty minutes of the game. The Leafs offense will have to be able to come together in order to be a winning team this season.
If the team is built from the net outwards, tonight's performance from the goal line to the blue line would be best described as very steady.
The defense was never brilliant, but they were getting the little things done. The Canadians, while having lots of shots in both the first and third periods, were kept out of the slot and back in the shooting lanes by the Toronto defense.
The drop and block style of Reimer meant that for most of the night he was letting the puck hit him and sucking up the rebound. Reimer played a steady game and stopped 32 shots overall to earn his first shutout. He wasn't superman, but he looked very much at home in his new office as the starting goalie in the new season. Reimer and Toronto were effectively managing the defensive zone.
Newly-acquired David Stekel won 72 percent of the face-offs, all of which seemed to be during the penalty kill.
Luke Schenn actually seemed to be missing-in-action by his own standards, playing for only 22:06, still significant minutes but way down from the often-logged 24:00 minutes a game.
With the current defenseman on the bench, the workload seemed much more balanced then in the past, today the other five defensemen all were over 17 minutes except Gardiner.
During the first period, the Canadians dominated the zone, out shooting the Leafs 14-4. But with the improved defense of the Leafs, they never got those wide-open, high-speed 2-on-1 plays of the past few years.
The Leafs, on the other hand, seemed capable of breaking out of their own zone easily enough.
If the leafs had lost this game, they would have blamed themselves for center ice and offensive zone turnovers. For a while, it seemed that passes were meant to go from tape to skate, and they were sloppy getting through the middle or controlling the puck in the offensive zone. They lost the cycling battles along the boards, and they gave the puck away too often.
Matt Frattin looked lost at times on the top line with Grabo and Kulemin, and he was often standing around looking for the play while the Russians were skating by at full speed. This could be expected as they have only been together for 3 days.
Tyler Bozak looked out of place on the second line between Lupul and Kessel. He won face offs but the whole line seemed to be gripping their sticks a little too tight and never clicked.
The Leafs offense leaves many big questions. The Leafs only had 18 shots on net. Phil Kessel recorded two shots but probably had another eight strong misses. They looked incapable of making passes either along the boards or up the center.
The few great plays in the game were relatively long drives at the net, along with Kessel's passing play to Dion Phaneuf and Lombardi's drive up the ice on the short handed goal.
If the offense doesn't shake the rust off their skates and get it together, we can expect to have a difficult first few weeks.
With MacArthur suspended and Connolly out with an injury, there was some major juggling going on over the night; Grabo even centered the Connolly line for a few shifts.
The passes have to look crisper, and the offense will need to start winning the battles down deep for the Leafs to score goals and win games.
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