Leafs/Wings Post-Game: Gustavsson the Great?

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    The Leafs improved their preaseason win total to six tonight at the ACC.  These are the final chances for some of the young hopefuls, and they are not going to go away easily.  Strong nights from Jonas Gustavsson and Viktor Stalberg were the headlines of this matchup.  Even the defense corps has a rookie strutting his stuff as Ron Wilson deemed Carl Gunnarsson their “best defenseman tonight”.

    As an aside, there may be some of you amongst our cherished readers that are relative newcomers here at MLHS.  You may have also been part of the great explosion that we have experienced over the past few months and were not around during the last regular season.  I want to take this chance to say that the staff is very excited to embark on the 2009-2010 Leafs season with such a fantastic group of supporters. 

    I handle the post-game recaps around here, and always set out with one basic principle: stimulate some solid hockey talk.  This becomes an easy job with the intelligent and knowledgeable posters we have around here. My format is as follows:

    1. Broad summary of the game.

    2. Handful of interesting notes relevant to player performance, standout events from the game, and anything that can be a starting point for discussion.

    3. Implications of the game and a look ahead.

    4. You guys take it away.

    Here are some quick notes from this Saturday night showdown:

    -The Hagman-Stajan-Blake line is a lock to start the season together.  They had a stellar outing tonight, albeit against an understaffed Wings squad.  Look for them to finish off those chances with authority if they keep getting them.  The upside of this line has a limit due to the talent of the players on it, but if all things go well they can be a very respectful 1a/1b type scoring line.  The introduction of Kessel will eventually disrupt either this trio or the Grabovski one and it will be a storyline of significance in the months ahead.

    -The other half of Toronto’s top six is still attempting to find their groove.  Ponikarovsky-Grabovski-Kulemin had good shifts tonight, but they are still too reliant on their Belorussian pivot’s creativity.  You will often see Grabovski heavily involved in the play whereas his two wingers are struggling.  There was definitely a number of promising shifts tonight, but you know the future of this line depends on the sophomore Kulemin coming around as we know he can.

    -The Stalberg Show continues in Toronto.  The effusive praise that flowed from the CBC crew to the young Swede may have been a bit overboard, but there is no doubt that he deserves a spot to start the year with the Leafs.  The problem is a good one: the Leafs are too deep to award all of the deserving rookies.  They also do not want to place scoring threats such as Stalberg and Tyler Bozak on the fourth line.  Burke and co. have indicated that three lines that can score is a very possible situation for this team.  The top two lines will likely pan out as mentioned above.  We know John Mitchell is going to center the third line.  Lee Stempniak will probably be given a crack at his wing based on Wilson’s praise.  You then have to figure that there will only be one spot, on the wing, for the aspiring rookies.  Despite their great play at times, I foresee Nazem Kadri and Bozak being sent down to their respective teams, and Viktor Stalberg grabbing a well-earned audition at the NHL level.

    -Jonas Gustavsson? Wow.  The devil’s advocate (of which there is always an excess when it comes to the Leafs) will claim that he has only played three periods in North America.  Regardless, he has been airtight and brilliant at times.  Vesa Toskala’s play has not exactly been inspiring, and as will happen in the pressure-cooker that is Toronto, there will be rumblings of a controversy.  Once again, this falls under the definition of a good problem to have.

    As the preseason winds to an end, we are beginning to see Brian Burke’s plan come into focus.  This is not purely a reference to the flourishing rebuilding effort.  Instead, the furious competition for roster spots all over the ice is a very welcome sight.  This push is resulting in improved play across the board, and fostering a level of urgency and energy that will bode well for Toronto when the regular season begins.  It will be an exciting final few days as the decisions of the coaching staff become apparent.

    As always, interested to hear your thoughts.

    Cheers,

    Nikhil

    [email protected]