Coughing up the lead late two games in a row is obviously a bit disconcerting considering the history of this team in that respect. But this pre-season is about shaking lingering habits from the former era and, as PPP points out, this is the perfect opportunity for Ron Wilson to kick some of these tendencies. That’s not to mention the fact that tonight’s collapse was largely the result of some rookie mistakes on the part of John Mitchell and Justin Pogge, who played great games otherwise.
We can start worrying if the full line-up continues this ugly trend through to the regular season. For now, it can’t be forgotten that the Leafs played the best fifty-six minutes of the pre-season thus far:
-Nik Kulemin is obviously experiencing a grating adjustment to the North American game. Often he seems on the verge of accomplishing something but runs out of room, indicating that he’s struggling to employ his offensive game on the smaller ice surface. The only way Kulemin is going to surmount this adjustment is by becoming more and more comfortable on the puck and he’s not getting involved enough in that regard. Mikhail Grabovski is not as generous a centerman as Alex Steen or Matt Stajan. For that reason, I don’t think the Belarusian is the right fit for Kulemin at this time. Kulemin’s doing the little things well away from the puck, minding his duties defensively, fore-checking effectively and creating traffic in front of the opponent’s crease. He’s looking better than he did on opening night, but he needs to continue to overcome the space adjustment and the only way that’s going to happen is by spending more time becoming comfortable on the puck. Perhaps Nik Antropov, Nik Kulemin and Alex Steen is a worthwhile experimental line combo?
-Jonas Frogren lived up to the billing tonight, delivering physically and playing sound positionally.
-Grabovski’s willingness to engage physically was a pleasant surprise these last two nights, but his decision-making must improve.
-John Mitchell would’ve completed his third game of strong, two-way hockey if not for his costly penalty late in the third followed by his loose mark on Ales Kotalik for the OT goal (which Pogge should’ve had, anyways). Regardless, Mitchell is likely the first-to-call in the depth chart in terms of forwards.
-Ian White’s goal was the result of a hard, accurate shot, but was one of his few shots that actually hit the net. His poise and passing was a positive. Defensively, White was again below-par. It’s a tough decision to make for Fletcher, but I think White’s still the odd man out.
-Justin Pogge’s concentration appears to be one of few areas in need of improvement once he assumes the starter’s role with the Marlies. Otherwise, he’s using his frame effectively and minimizing his amount of work in terms of flopping and sliding. His rebound control was exquisite in all performances. It’s been a promisingly strong pre-season from Pogge, who has given Leafs’ brass and fans every reason to invest their faith in him as the future between the posts.