Gotta love the victory over the Sens, preseason or not. However, things started out going from bad to worse. The first goal was one to remember for Chris Neil and his family. He makes the first real hockey play of his life by banking the puck off Reimer for Mika Zibanjad to show off his great hand eye coordination and bat the puck in. He meant to do it and all.
So far Neil has had five career two assist games, and the sixth came tonight. Ah well, I hear Halley’s Comet is coming in 2061. Thatâ€™s exactly the date when you can expect Chris to repeat this feat.
Itâ€™s true that the Leafs conceded two goals in 1:07 of play but I really liked the way the team responded to those goals. The fight back was started by none other than Mikhail Grabovski with a shorthanded goal that Lehner had trouble seeing. You donâ€™t usually see bullets. He really looked like a dog on a bone in the last two games – just the type of game he needs to play to repeat the success from last season. The guy just doesn’t quit, on any shift be it in preseason or during the fight for the playoffs. I think he realized last year how good he can actually be when he puts in the time and the effort. When a player senses that, he gets hooked, plus it becomes contagious.
Right after that, Liles scored a PP goal (Kadri and Lupul with the assists) to tie the game up. Unfortunately, the first period ended with a pile up mess, a free for all, which resulted in the Sens scoring the go ahead goal. Reimer got sat on (given, he was out of the crease but he could hardly come back and actually make a save, a goalie has to be given a chance to do so) and Nick Foligno found a way to inch the puck over the goal line.
The Leaf defense behind the net hasn’t been good and positioning needs to improve. Alex and Cameron mentioned the shallower nets factor. I think itâ€™s most definitely a factor, as it plays into the hands of the forwards thanks to increased wiggle room, but I also think itâ€™s like that for every other team. And I haven’t seen other teams struggling as much.
Iâ€™m not advocating changing anything with the Mac in the USSR but it would be nice to just test Frattin on that line for a longer stretch of time, possibly instead of Mac. I think those three would work well together. A Soviet Fraternity. Of course, why the hell would we want to break up Mac in the USSR? No reason. Â The Sens wouldn’t mind. Kulemin scored the tying goal after driving to the net with some Russian authority. Two things about hockey I love most â€“ digging for pucks in the corners and driving to the net, no wonder heâ€™s my favorite current Leaf. That line looks back to regular season form and it dominated.
The lead came after Boyce redirected a Franson shot as the Leafs put their noses (heh) ahead with a 4-3 lead. Mac finished off any chance the Sens had at getting back into this game. Trailing on the play, he picked up a great feed from Grabo and sniped it stick side.
I thought Gunnarsson played a good game. Sure, he made some weak passes, but he did what no Leaf seems to be able to do with any consistency â€“ clear the net.
Puck transition was a problem when Liles wasnâ€™t on the ice. That was especially noticeable in our inability to make that all important breakout pass. Not to imply anything here but that part of our game seems much better with Gardiner in the lineup.
Kadri might have been less noticeable today, but that doesnâ€™t mean he didnâ€™t do exactly what the coaches wanted. The only thing haters can complain about today is his lousy faceoff percentage, a part of his game which, if we want to be realistic, canâ€™t be criticized just yet.
Besides having a good offensive day once in a blue moon, Chris Neil is also just nasty. A kind of â€œThe good, bad and the uglyâ€ situation, less the good. The bad part is Grabo got hit by a dirty elbow from Neil (video here – do it Shanny). The good â€“ Grabo thinks Neilâ€™s hits are funny. And the ugly? Well, I’ll let you figure that one by yourselves.
InÂ Belarus, you concuss the quiet room â€“ or something like that, possibly with more sense and humor.
Reimer looked shaky early but settled down as the game progressed, making some big saves to keep the Leafs in it and finishing with 32 saves on 35 shots faced. All in all, we can all go to sleep happy. Go Leafs Go!