The Leafs will ice their top 6 forwards and what seems to be (as of today) their opening night defence group against a fairly weak Senators lineup in game #6 of preseason at the Air Canada Center tonight.
Nikolai Kulemin will flanking Kadri in David Clarkson’s projected spot. I think he’s the best fit for filling that role in Clarkson’s absence; of all of the productive line combinations Kadri centered last season, I thought the best iteration was him with Lupul and Kadri. Kulemin played one of his best stretches of hockey since his 30-goal campaign in his stint beside Kadri last season. He was doing all the small things right (first in on the forecheck, defensively responsible), battled hard as he always does, and can keep up with the pace of the other two. His play opened up some space for Lupul and Kadri to work their magic.
On defence, this group of 6 does not instill total confidence in me for when the real games start:
Phaneuf – Gunnarsson
Fraser – Gardiner
Rielly – Ranger
Phaneuf and Gunnarsson have proven capable of being a better than adequate top pairing, and Rielly and Ranger could potentially eat up weaker competition off the bottom pair, hopefully without costing the team too much in their own end of the rink. I’m not confident Fraser-Gardiner would be up to the task against the other team’s second scoring line. Maybe Ranger plays his way onto that second pairing and makes us forget about Franson, but to be honest Ranger and Gardiner seemed to be (while a very talented pairing) hazardous together. It might be best to ease Ranger into NHL action.
Part of my concern is Fraser clearly being out of his element when he flirted with top 4 minutes toward the end of last season. The other part is that Gardiner may need to play with someone capable of compensating for his loose defensive play. In principle, I like the idea of Gardiner being complemented by a stay-at-home guy who can win battles and make a short pass over to Gardiner. I’m just not sure this combination is up to the task under a 20 minute workload against good competition.
James Reimer will get the start, looking to build on his strong performance on Saturday in Buffalo (38 saves, 15 stops in the shootout).
Maple Leafs Pre-Season LinesMaple Leafs Pre-Season Lines vs. Ottawa Senators
Senators Pre-Season LinesSenators Pre-Season Lines vs. Maple Leafs