A momentum swing in Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins can be largely attributed to a couple of in-game changes orchestrated by bench-boss Ron Wilson.
The starting first line of Mikhail Grabovski, Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky proved ineffectual in the first frame and rookie Nik Kulemin wasn’t clicking with line-mates Nik Hagman and Alex Steen. The team failed to generate anything in the way of offense until late in the third, when Wilson’s ad hoc lines began to fire, mounting a near come-back with two goals in quick succession.
Kulemin joined Grabovski and Antropov atop the first line, while Ponikarovsky united with Nik Hagman and Alex Steen on the second. The extemporized lines generated 12 shots in the third, matching the team’s shot total of the first and second periods combined.
While mid-game line changes seemed the obvious course of action to try to spark the stale offense, it was the type of improvised, momentum-changing adjustment that seemed to elude Paul Maurice during his tenure in Leafland.
Wilson will pick up where he left off in tonight’s rematch with the Pittsburgh Penguins inside the ACC, with Antropov – Grabovski – Kulemin and Ponikarovsky – Steen – Hagman constituting lines one and two respectively.
Dominic Moore, the surprise of the pre-season thus far, will center Ryan Hollweg and Jamal Mayers, a line that has been projected into opening night as the team’s fourth line energy component.
Chris DiDomenico, a stand-out at the prospect tournament in Kitchener, will be given an NHL trial run tonight before returning to the St. John’s Sea Dogs tomorrow. He will skate on the fourth line alongside Robbie Earl and Jeremy Williams. Williams, a call-up last season, makes his pre-season debut.
According to Sportsnet, Jeff Finger won’t feature tonight as he’s day-to-day with a foot injury after blocking a shot in practise. Considering the fact that shot-blocking wasn’t seen from the majority of last season’s roster during games, that alone might be worth the $3.5 million investment. Jaime Sifers will take Finger’s place and skate alongside Tomas Kaberle.
Ian White and Luke Schenn will comprise the team’s top blue-line pairing in what could potentially be a make-it-or-break-it night for White.
Pavel Kubina kicks off his ’08/’09 campaign tonight and will play with Carlo Colaiacovo.
While Evgeni Malkin won’t feature tonight for the Pens, it gets no easier for the Leafs as Syd Crosby has sufficiently healed from his groin ailment and Marc-Andre Fleury will mind the posts.
Entering his first season as an undisputed starter, Vesa Toskala makes his debut with Curtis Joseph in support.
The line-up via Sportsnet:
Mikhail Grabovski – Nik Antropov – Nikolai Kulemin
Alexander Steen – Niklas Hagman – Alexei Ponikarovsky
Dominic Moore – Ryan Hollweg – Jamal Mayers
Jeremy Williams – Robbie Earl – Chris DiDomenico
Ian White – Luke Schenn
Pavel Kubina – Carlo Colaiacovo
Tomas Kaberle – Jaime Sifers