As the preseason is winding down, the Leafs and Red Wings played a fast paced game with noticeably more skill and poise than those of recent weeks. Â With that in mind, it was a bit surprising that three of the Leafs four goals were scored by Toronto’s Mikes: Brown and Komisarek. Â Jonas Gustavsson was shaky at times, but used his monstrous frame with Allaire-esque purpose at the right moments, finishing with a save percentage slightly under .900. Â More importantly, he clearly bested Jimmy Howard in the matchup of goaltenders, as the Leafs overcame an ugly second period to win it in overtime.
Here are some thoughts from this Friday night faceoff:
-Welcome back Mike Brown. Â #18 rode hisÂ mustacheÂ to 2 goals tonight, while displaying his usual dosage of steel fortitude with some skilled and fearless blocks on the penalty kill. Â There’s a reason he’s been a lock on rosters formulated by us Armchair GMs all summer long. Â I’d love for both the wings on our fourth line to be populated by identical clones of Brown, speed, mustache and all.
-Speaking of the fourth line, it looks like Philippe Dupuis has edged out Darryl Boyce for the job as center of that unit. Â Boyce saw very little ice after the first tonight, ending with a -1 with a double serving of minor penalties to show for it. Â Dupuis brings a little more versatility to his play, but was also a dependable penalty killer in Colorado and that has been apparent in his brief time in Toronto. Â Burke signs players with a purpose and a certain amount of loyalty. Â While Boyce’s nose-related heroics will make him either the extra forward or first in line to be called up, he’s on the outside looking in at the moment.
-The Gardiner Expressway was flying again tonight. Â It’s getting to the point where Ron Wilson and Brian Burke won’t be able to explain a Gardiner demotion with a straight face if it indeed happens. Â He brings a level of jump from the bluelineÂ that the Leafs have not seen in far too long. Â Moreover, he exhibited a penchant for hustling back into position tonight, and making astute defensive plays and smart decisions. Â You could see the coaching staff was testing the offensive dynamo on his defense capabilities, as he was thrown out for over 3 minutes of shorthanded time (only beneath Cody Franson amongst defensemen). What separates the Expressway as a defenseman other than his wheels and offensive capabilities? Intelligence and a sense for a game that is far beyond his years. The kid has much to learn, but when a “student” starts at the level that Gardiner is at, the sky is the limit.
-Oh Mike Komisarek, you tease. Â Just when the best efforts of Ron Wilson, Brian Burke and co. are beginning to have an effect and you’re actually believing Komisarek could bring a dependable “veteran presence” alongside a kid like Gardiner, he shows you the downfalls in his game that have been a trademark of most of his career here in Toronto. Â Let’s not kid ourselves, the occasional heart-stopping overtime goal is not a feature of Mike’s game, nor should it be used as a logical explanation for his place on this roster. To be as fair as possible to a player I honestly like, Komisarek had some nice clears on the PK in the first and also picked up an assist.
The bad? He stutter-step drops to the ice (like the kid who spams the “block shot” button on NHL 11) in the second only to have the opposing Detroit player dance right around him. Â Then I’m sure you all noticed the atrocious shift he had on the second Detroit goal. Â Yes, he was tired, and the Leafs put in a group effort of suck on that tally. Â But, when do you stop making excuses for a high-paid veteran defenseman? Is he not supposed to use his venerable fountain of experience to cope with situations and make the simple, smart play? Â It’s go-time for the big guy, and an overtime goal will probably buy him a ticket into the lineup on October 6th, but his leash should be very, very short.
Tomorrow night should see the debut of Matt Lombardi in a Toronto uniform. Colour me excited, but a fourth line of Lombardi-Dupuis-Brown would be filthy fast, with enough aptitude at both ends of the rink to make a difference. While it’s still anyone’s guess, we’ll also be hoping to see the beginnings of a resolution to the ambiguous logjam that is currently our blueline.
Looking forward to your thoughts as always.