The approach entering the ’08/’09 campaign from head coach Ron Wilson and general manager Cliff Fletcher is that performance is the primary measuring stick while results in the win/loss columns are only of secondary import.
But the need to gain confidence and a genuine belief in Wilson’s philosophy and system is crucial for this young and transitioning Maple Leafs team. The Maple Leafs couldn’t have gotten off to a better start in that regard with a 3-2 win over the Stanley Cup victors of ’08, a score-line that actually flatters the heavily-favoured Red Wings.
It must be said that this wasn’t a Red Wings team atop its game. But the Maple Leafs’ hustle, speed and enterprise played a major part in forcing mistakes from a usually stingy Red Wings team. The coaching and the execution was picture perfect, with the Maple Leafs trapping as a unit defensively and maintaining a boisterous fore-check that disrupted any flow the Red Wings attempted to establish. Two of three Leafs goals were the result of Red Wings give-aways.
The Maple Leafs concluded the pre-season looking rather unrefined. Discipline was a major downfall for the club in the primers, but the Leafs kept their feet moving and avoided the sin bin but three times, one of which was a delay-of-game penalty. The inability to clear the zone and relieve pressure was another fault, but the Leafs cleared the zone efficiently, preventing the concerted puck control game of the Red Wings from taking effect. As we all awaited the seemingly inescapable collapse, the Leafs also avoided succumbing to a spirited come-back attempt by the Wings by maintaining concentration.
Perhaps most promising of all, this is a Leafs team that’s wearing its heart on its sleeve.
-Dominic Moore was heroic. Aside from scoring, he won crucial face-offs, blocked shots and, as usual, his work rate was outstanding. Dare I say it was Keon-like. Deserving of the first star.
-Vesa Toskala, period.
-It’s getting incredibly tough to justify sending Schenn down. He held his own in 17+ minutes of ice-time. Physical and very solid. Here’s one reason why you might: 0 minutes of power-play time. It might be in the best interest of developing his offensive game if he’s returned to junior where he can log ample time QBing the Kelowna power-play. The other option is to make an attempt to give him a shift or two on the PP a night for now and hopefully increase that load considerably by next season once a body or two can be moved.
-Bold prediction: Hagman will pot 25 this year. The Grabovski, Tlusty, Hagman line is a definite keeper.
-“Pavel Kubina is playing like a Norris Trophy” (Don Cherry). I actually thought he defended much better than an immobile piece of silverware, but that’s just me. The entire blue-line corps was fantastic with the exception of Carlo Colaiacovo, who looked behind-a-step.
-I worry about Stajan. He clocked in at less than 10 minutes of ice-time on the fourth line tonight. He’s really struggled to win the approval of Wilson thus far, but I’m hoping Wilson will give him a shot in a more prominent role at some point. He’ll come around.
-May it be the first of many for Nik Kulemin. He was fortunate to have the puck gifted to him at the blue-line, but take nothing away from the finish with aplomb. Once around the net, Kulemin’s instincts take over and that’s very promising. The goal should provide a much-needed confidence boost.
-Lines two and three were brilliant, but one and four left something to be desired. Blake, after a promising pre-season, returned to his old habits of taking low-percentage shots and giving the puck away. It’s tough to make adjustments to the line-up with the way lines two and three are performing, but Wilson can try White on that fourth line or Hollweg once he returns.
-It’s tough to see Stralman in the pressbox, but you don’t want to mess with the chemistry of the blue-line corps. Eventually, Stralman will probably assume Van Ryn’s spot, however.
-Bring on the Habs.