Tank Nation rejoice.
A pattern of close, competitive losses is emerging in Leafland, equating to a 2-5-1 pre-season record.
These performances include bright showings from the team’s youth, hitting, shot blocking and entertaining hockey.
But, careful – should the Leafs somehow find a way to eke out points from these tight contests, John Tavares or Victor Hedman may be well out of the question.
Tonight’s performance had a fair share of its “Yeah, buts.” If Alexei Ponikarovsky’s hands of stone were more like talc, or if Curtis Joseph could have answered to the little that was asked of him, I might be signing a slightly different tune.
There’s reason to be optimistic about Wilson’s ability to impress upon this group. For the the second time in as many games, Wilson fired up his troops after a slow period. Last night, the Leafs found themselves down two after a languid first frame, but came out soaring in period two and leveled the scoreline. Tonight, the Leafs seemed at the mercy of the defending champs (who admittedly iced far from a full line-up) down 3-1 at the second interval, but stormed back to tie it up less than a minute and a half into the third.
A lack of discipline, or inability to avoid critical mistakes, is the crucial short-coming for this group. As Wilson says, this team doesn’t appear as though it knows how to win. A giant task lies ahead for Mr. Wilson.
Onto the game notes…
*If I were Cliff Fletcher – part of me wants to tell Ponikarovsky that he’s got only a couple games left to prove to me why I should keep him around. We’ve been waiting and waiting for Poni put it all together and he’s yet to really prove himself as anything outside of a checking liner or marginal second liner. That’s not to say he wouldn’t be an effective checking liner, but a piece needs to be moved and Poni might be that piece. There are a couple of reasons why I don’t see that happening, though, and the relationship between him and Antropov is chief among them. Poni has forever been the ying to Antropov’s yang; he’s what makes Big Nik click. We might just have to bear the empty net misses in order to keep our most skilled forward in form.
*White was less noticeable tonight, but I like Wilson’s idea here. White could play the Wade Belak role except much more effectively, rotating in and out both up front and on the back-end (perhaps even mid-game as he did tonight). That sort of versatility can really come in handy, particularly if the slew of pre-season injuries are an indication of what’s to come.
*Niklas Hagman’s late-game display of cheeky dekes was impressive and showed a side of Hagman I didn’t know existed. A significant portion of his 27 goals last season was a result his timeliness around the net (which we’ve seen on a few occasions, but he hasn’t been able to convert) and if he can combine that knack with some offensive flair, he should be able to re-attain that 20 goal plateau.
*Hagman, Grabovski and Tlusty was the Leafs’ best line. Grabovski is showing more and more as the pre-season progresses.
*Tonight was not one of Luke Schenn’s better performances. He was physical and for the most part steady, but was caught out on occasion and was admiring the puck on the losing goal. An off game was inevitable.
*Back to the wing for Nik Antropov. Playing center ice comes with significantly more defensive responsibility, and while he’s not necessarily unwilling to “get back,” he doesn’t appear to have the awareness or the speed to mind his mark deep into the defensive zone, and it resulted in a goal tonight. The Blake – Poni – Antropov line, while a strong power-play unit, struggles 5-on-5. Antropov’s meat and potatoes is doing the grunt work along the end boards. A worthwhile experiment, but one that should end.
*If we don’t see dramatic improvement in Joseph’s play come regular season, Pogge may see his first meaningful NHL action sooner than anticipated.