That’s not to say we can disregard all the negatives of tonight’s not-so-pretty tilt. Â Here’s a bit of the good and bad we can draw from the “Fan First Game” Â (DAMN there has got to be some angry fans downtown tonight):
-We were quickly welcomed back into life with Tomas Kaberle: some headscratchers on the defensive end (the Winchester goal) get you fuming about his (sometimes exaggerated) defensive lapses, but the Czech defender then pulls off a dirty head fake and some slick stick work while retrieving the puck, inevitably prompting his checking player to just “give up” and peel away.
-While the abyssmal effort on the powerplay tonight is an indicator that it is very much a work in process, it was exciting to see an added dimension of creativity. This came in the form of players such as Kris Versteeg and Nazem Kadri, who displayed some of their skill deep in the zone on the PP. Â Most importantly, they brought the Leafs out of their predictable incessant “perimeter dance” (when they just cycle the puck on the fringe of the opposition’s defensive box). Â Although unsuccessfull at times, they did thread some passes through the box (and even across the crease!) with precision and that bodes well for a Toronto team that is creatively starved.
-Make no mistake, Robin Lehner had a big night in net for Ottawa. Â The kid should rise quickly on an Ottawa goalie depth chart that is lacking in both skill and reliability.
-With an impressive display of strength and determination, Christian Hanson announced his 2010-2011 arrival at the end of the first period. Â This is the tantalizing potential in the college signee, but Hanson is in tough to make this squad as a fulltime member.
-The competition between Brett Lebda and Carl Gunnarson for those final defensive spots gave way to an easy decision for Gunnarson. Â Lebda whipped out some heady rushes but was also out of position defensively on occasion (re: the 3rd Ottawa goal). Â Gunnarson? Â Earned his usual “Mr. Steady” moniker.
With a marathon of these preseason matches yet to come, there will be many opportunities to further evaluate this year’s squad and gain a true perspective on where they are heading. Â Obvious positives such as Jonas Gustavsson’s solid performance tonight hold a bit more weight than the gaffes of veterans such as Dion Phaneuf and Tomas Kaberle. Â Regardless of the visual atrocity we were just exposed to my prevalent thought throughout tonight was: “HOCKEY IS BACK. YESSSS!”
Interested to hear your thoughts,