It’s funny to think we were once viewing 2011 Leafs training camp as having little up for grabs, besides the third line winger’s role and the order of the Leafs‘ top seven defenders. Pleasant surprises, injuries, and a suspension later, somehow the opening night lineup is cloudier leaving preseason than it was entering it.
While Gardiner refuses to go way (to put it lightly) and has seemingly forced Leafs brass into a tough decision on the backend, Matthew Lombardi debuts tonight in what has to be considered an ahead of schedule return to the game action. We do have to be careful not to read too far into Lombardi’s debut coming alongside Kessel and Lupul tonight. Safe to say though, Connolly likely hadn’t pictured himself out injured while his line is centered by Lombardi come the final game of preseason.
More than a little rust has to be expected of a player who hasn’t seen game action since October, 2010, let alone one who hadn’t really begun intensive workouts until the next September. However, it will make for an intriguing experiment to pair together two bonafide speedsters in Kessel and Lombardi. Lupul and Bozak are no slouches in the skating department, but this is the first linemate to play with #81 who can keep up with a Kessel at full stride. The pressure this could impose on the opponent is aÂ tantalizingÂ thought based on speed alone, Â but the fit ultimately depends on whether or not the two can establish the type chemistry that hasn’t been evident yet between Connolly and Kessel (two preseason games in, at least).
The Gardiner and Komisarek pairing will stay in tact tonight after a rollercoaster of a game from the duo last night, highlighted by goals from each and lowlighted by a couple of scrambly goals against. There were times when the pairing looked to complement each other really well, and others when there didn’t seem to be enough defensive acumen between the two. And that reflects poorer on Komisarek than it does Gardiner.
Matt Frattin will step in for the recently suspended Clarke MacArthur, and depending on he fares one would envision he’ll fill in for the opening two regular season games as well.
Joffrey Lupul – Matthew Lombardi – Phil Kessel
Matt Frattin – Mikhail Grabovski – Nikolai Kulemin
Mike Brown – Philippe Dupuis – Colby Armstrong
Joey Crabb – Mike Zigomanis – Jay Rosehill
Jake Gardiner – Mike Komisarek
Keith Aulie – Dion Phaneuf
Carl Gunnarsson – Jean Michael Liles
Starter: James Reimer