There’s no better way to kick off a Leafs season than to beat the Canadiens in their own rink, inspiring some hilarious yet predictable non-blowout booing from the fans and some verbal pleas to the front office to strike a deal with their unsigned RFA.
In the fans’ defense, the Habs looked particularly poor in a close but sloppy game all around. An entertaining first period, a product of pent up anxiousness and energy from the players, gave way to a bit of a crash in the second and third, expected from a group of players that hadn’t played against NHL competition at an NHL pace in eight months.
Yep, it’s premature to draw too many conclusions out of this one. Certainly though, – forget the bigger picture – Kostka playing his first NHL game at the age of 27 and producing a near-23 all-situations minutes of pretty much flawless hockey (save one penalty) was impressive in and of itself. Nazem Kadri gathering some early confidence and rewarding his coach and GM’s faith in him – they had to make a hole in the lineup to give him this chance – is nothing but a good thing.
What you have to remember about both of those guys is that they had the benefit of playing a lot recently, but Kadri, alongside linemates Komarov and JvR, made a positive impact almost every shift. His goal was a fine display of goal scoring instinct, sensing an opportunity to sift into the seam unnoticed, taking Kessel’s pass from skate to stick, and beating Price who had overplayed the pass to his left. He supplemented the goal with a few big hits and a concerted effort to take care of his own end. His oh-fer on the faceoff dot is a slight concern.
Back to the point, I am having a hard time remembering the Habs generating much of anything in the way of clear cut scoring chances five on five, and even after generating a powerplay goal, Les Habitants never really seemed likely to score another. That’s somewhat of a testament to tight defensive zone coverage from the Leafs. But when the Leafs sagged in the third and quit moving their feet (understandable in the circumstances after mostly taking it to the Habs for the first two), the Habs managed to both carry the play for a significant spell and never really look ominous.
All that can be safely said about Scrivens’ performance is that he didn’t lose them the game and deserves the next start. The Leafs managed to keep the Habs out of the good ice with much consistency and they did an effective job of clearing the occasional wild rebound. That’s of course a good thing from a defensive standpoint, but is probably not a luxury he’ll enjoy consistently against more formidable offenses, especially those with more size in the top six, and it will be interesting to see how he handles his first good test. The hope is that the Leafs goaltenders will be less taxed by quality scoring opportunities than last season under the Ron Wilson system, and that what we saw last night was a preview of the Carlyle system at work in terms of the team’s defensive performance.
One player I’d like to give a nod out to who didn’t get mentioned in Mislav’s excellent Game in Ten last night was actually the least played Leafs defenceman, Cody Franson. No defenceman in Blue looked bad, but Franson broke up two or three plays with good stick work including a two on one generated off of a big hit on Kadri just outside the Leafs’ blueline.
Qualifiers aside, and there are plenty, this shortened season emphasizes the need for a good start. One down.
Saturday’s Three Stars: Blackhawks spoil Kings’ Banner Day, Jagr raises the beast
Ageless wonders Jagr and Selanne with big games last night.
Marlies beat Hamilton in a shootout
Tim Connolly scores in his first ever AHL game at age 31.
Scrivens stops 21, Leafs top Canadiens 2-1
Cam Charron’s recap including a scoring chance breakdown.