The Leafs took a 3-2 decision in tonight’s preseason match on a late scrappy goal by Dave Bolland (he’s good at those). There was some injury concerns after Nazem Kadri blocked a shot with one of his patented nifty mittens, but early reports indicate it is just a bruise.
This was a preseason game, so it was far from pretty. Players come into these games with significantly different levels of motivation, skill and rustiness. While many look at skill as the most significant of these qualities, consistent high level success in the NHL necessitates enormous amounts of motivation and effort. To see this concept in action, one needs to look no further than the Senators themselves. With their personnel and heavy injuries, Ottawa has attained success in the past two seasons largely due to a team-wide dedication to bringing it every night and following their gameplan. The mentality to do whatever it takes to win is what separates the Alexander Semins from the Jonathan Toews. It’s the basis for any sustained success in this league and something that Toronto should look for in all their players.
That being said, there were a few notes of interest from tonight’s tilt:
-Nazem Kadri is a shining example of a player with this very mentality. Along with a ridiculous amount of skill, it is what makes him a truly tantalizing part of this team’s future. He flashed the skill with a quick move for the first goal of the night in tight. He demonstrated the never-say-die attitude by throwing hits and willingly blocking a shot (that subsequently elevated the average heart rate of Leafs Nation). With talent and even more determination on his wings (e.g. David Clarkson) – the sky’s the limit for Nazem.
-Paul Ranger took a soft penalty in the first, only to come out of the box and hit a post on the counterattack. Ranger’s long term future with this club is still very much up in the air, but it is looking more and more like he will provide a reliable presence on Toronto’s blueline this season. In some respects, he brings a similar presence to aspiring Maple Leaf Stuart Percy (minus the size difference). Not necessarily a dynamo at either end of the rink – but skilled, smart, and dependable. The type of cost-effective, safe blueline presence that all contending clubs need.
-David Bolland can join Kadri, Clarkson,
Grabovski and Phaneuf as players that would go through a wall to will this team to victory. When Kessel‘s shots aren’t going in or Reimer/Bernier are off their game, it will be the workmanlike attitude of this group that will keep Toronto in every game, giving them a chance to win through grit and determination where pure skill may falter. Sure, his numbers (advanced and otherwise) were not great last year, but Bolland has that fierce competitiveness that will make this club an absolute pain to play against on any given night. Proof? He paid the physical price on his game-winning goal tonight (he was also the beneficiary of some nice work by Morgan Rielly on the point).
-Bolland adds to the dynamics of this team in a few ways. First, McClement-Bolland got some looks on the PK tonight and could certainly become an effective duo going forward. More importantly, Bolland and Kulemin are both dogged on the puck and just as hard to get off it, with their work yielding results a number of times tonight. Mason Raymond brings speed and some offensive pop to this line, along with the underrated ability to just skate the puck out of trouble if needs be. This is a third line in the mold of Carlyle’s vision that this club hasn’t seen in years.
-Speaking of Mason Raymond: he wants that job. Unless cap issues confound the situation, the Leafs should give it to him. A cheap, one year contract to prove his worth (talk about sustained motivation). Using his trademark speed, Raymond has stood out in every game he’s played so far. While his offensive output faltered at times in Vancouver, fans and analysts never faulted him on his effort or defensive determination. Really, the only counterarguments to Raymond’s inclusion on this club have come from supporters of younger Leafs getting a “chance” in that slot. The reality is, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that injuries will be removing players from this lineup in short order. Raymond is versatile as he can easily be either a checking line winger or a fixture in the top six. Get ‘er done Nonis.
-Jonathan Bernier looked his usual calm and collected self in the crease tonight, despite nursing a minor injury that caused him to leave after the first period. The Toronto media will drum up this “goaltending controversy” for as long as humanly possible, but in reality the picture won’t be clear for months, if ever. Given both goaltenders’ skills and relative experience, it is quite likely that they put forth similar levels of quality play in the Maple Leafs net. My gut tells me this is one of those situations where a shared load in the crease may truly benefit the team – at least for this season.
Of course, we’re all hoping Carlyle and co. decide to start trotting out something closer to the opening nights lineup in the preseason games ahead. Certain veterans are still adjusting and taking their time to round back into game form, but with a few key personnel decisions yet to be made, it would behoove the team to get into full gear as soon as possible.