The winless Ottawa Senators visit the undefeated Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at the ACC. With a victory this evening, the Leafs would have their best start to a season since ’99-00 when they won three straight out of the gate. It’s just two games, but the symbolism of a return to the pre-lockout days – let alone a chance to put the Sens at 0-2 and gain early points on another division rival – would be nothing but sweet.
Similarly, perhaps in a symbolic sense there was more to take out of Thursday night than just the two points.Â Ron Wilson’s message after Thursday’s win was an important one – it was just one game, and the home opener against a Habs team suffering some key injuries at that. But as we are all too aware, this time last year in the same opening night fixture, the Leafs lost a game they should’ve won, igniting a disastrous 0-7-1 start and developing into an theme of outshooting and losing that haunted the Leafs all season.
After owning the first frame, the Leafs were outshot 21-12 in the final two periods. They got timely saves from JS Giguere. The penalty kill did it’s job defending the 2-1 lead as the Leafs spent nine of the first 14 minutes of the second period short handed. The Leafs drew four stick infractions out of the smaller, quicker Habs and took only two of their own. Hell, Carey Price wasn’t even that bad.
Phil Kessel made his mark on the game, but it was two new faces in the secondary cast that chipped in vital contributions in Clarke MacArthur and Tim Brent. After an off-season of turmoil and fresh off the news he would not be wearing a letter this season, longest serving current Maple Leaf Tomas Kaberle showed no hard feelings, looking fresh and controlling the game brilliantly from the backend. AllÂ promising signs, even if it is too early to tell.
Some other notes from Thursday:
-One unpromising sign was the familiarly ineffectual powerplay, posting a measly two shots in three unrealized opportunities. Some PP production would’ve helped secure that win and ease some of the late game tension. Puck possession/movement was good, hitting the net and finishing needs improvement.
-The checking line Ron Wilson has assembled in Tim Brent, Fredrik Sjostrom and Colby Armstrong saw a lot of time against the Habs’ top guns and fared well. One area of concern is with Brent’s performance in the faceoff circle. In 12 faceoffs against Scott Gomez and Tomas Pleckanec (only one of which was in the offensive zone), Brent went 33% on the dot.
-Mike Komisarek was incredibly involved in the action given he only played 12 minutes, on the ice for four of the five goals and finishing at an even +/-. Wilson was stressing the need to ease Komisarek into the system after a severely curtailed ’09-10 but he’ll have to get himself organized defensively if he’s going to justify further ice time, let alone that $4.5 million ticket.
-Luke Schenn played a strong 21 minutes alongside Tomas Kaberle, looking supremely confident on and off the puck. It’s early but all signs since the onset of training camp indicate we’ll see career highs points-wise and a bounce back year from Luke.
Back to tonight’s game – the Senators are playing their second game in as many nights after losing a tight one to Buffalo last night 2-1. Pascal Leclaire was surprisingly solid given his shaky preseason, turning away 34 of 36 shots, AKA all shots not taken by Derek Roy. Jason Spezza did not dress last night and is tabbed to likely sit again tonight according to NHL.com. The Sens were lacking some kick up front last night and let’s hope it was due to Spezza’s absence.
The Leafs will look to continue their dominance of the Senators since Game 3 of last season’s Battle of Ontario. After dropping the opening two contests in ’09-10 provincial series, the Leafs swept the final four. Phil Kessel has been Sen kryptonite in both a Leaf and Bruin jersey, posting 12 goals, four assists and 16 points in 11 games played against Ottawa.
Wilson will ice the same Leaf line-up we saw Thursday.