The Maple Leafs dropped a 5-2 decision to the
Swedish Olympic team Detroit Red Wings tonight. While firm judgement should never be made based on preseason, many of the goals tonight were a testament to the skill that the Red Wings possess and a poor effort from the Leafs. It will be great to renew one of Toronto’s oldest rivalries this season against one of the league’s oldest set of players.
Some notes from tonight’s tilt:
-Whether it be his trademark pinpoint accuracy (shots and passes) or his right-handed presence on the powerplay, Cody Franson is a noticeable difference maker for this team. As I’ve said before, I’m a big supporter of Franson and the steps he has taken in his game over the past few years. He is a physical force in his own end and just turned 26 this August. Some people had issue with signing Franson to just the one-year contract as it will create yet another defenseman in need of a new deal next year for Nonis and co. (at a significantly higher price than his current $2 million tag). So what? If Franson can duplicate (and improve) on his performance from last year, it would contribue to substantial evidence towards a deserved $4 million+ salary for multiple years. Franson has established himself as a top-four defenseman with near-elite offensive skills – and he still has room to improve.
-While he let in five goals, Bernier was OK in net. He flashed the glove and held his ground on a few scrambles, but the game got away from the Leafs as it went on. The first was a forgivable redirection past Bernier with a Dan Cleary screen and Gardiner futilely waving his stick at the puck. The second was the consequence of Bernier’s aggressiveness in net getting the better of him, as he was caught trying to push up in his crease when the Wings put a rebound shot past him. The final goal also saw one squeak under a pad that was just seconds too slow in sealing off the bottom of the ice. The rest? Just some guys named Datsyuk and Zetterberg working magic on the powerplay. At the end of the day, both goalies have looked good in the preseason. Out of respect for tenure, you would think Bernier would have had to severely outperform Reimer in the preseason to take the opening night gig. That hasn’t happened – but it’s still a complete mystery which tender will start on Tuesday. Thankfully, both are great options.
-With Kessel out and Clarkson soon to enter his suspension, we have been seeing Carlyle experiment with the line combinations. Tonight, Kadri and Raymond were put together to good effect – making plays happen with their speed and puck movement. They broke into the zone with skill on the powerplay to facilitate Kadri’s opening goal of the night. Then again Kadri’s been productive with just about anybody on his wings since 2012-2013.
-On that note, Lupul was deployed with the de facto checking line (Bolland and Kulemin). Similar to Kadri, Lupul (when healthy) can create offense for his line. He does so with high end puck protection and retrieval in the offensive zone and a knack for making and finishing plays. This line had a solid outing, and presents Carlyle with the tantalizing possibility of three scoring lines as Kessel, Kadri and Lupul are the team’s three most potent offensive catalysts. But, as we all know, Carlyle loves a true shutdown line and it remains to be seen if he’s willing to put Lupul out repeatedly in tough situations.
-Speaking of offensive catalysts, Cody Franson probably holds that title right now on the club’s back end. But consider Jake Gardiner the challenger of note as he consistently flashes his ability to weave and dish with the best of them. There will still be growing pains defensively and the coaching staff would like him to use his shot more, but Gardiner’s development will continue to be a treat to watch.
-How has David Clarkson looked in a Leafs uniform thus far? Not fully himself. He was at his best last game, with a number of shots on net alongside his usual agitation and physicality on the ice. For those wondering why he has looked a bit off, it’s worth considering the unique position he is in: heading into a suspension when the real games start, while taking to the ice for meaningless exhibition games. This is a player that gives 110% every night of the regular season and I fully expect him to bring it when he finally suits up in October.
With just a few days left before the season opener, the remaining lineup mysteries will soon be resolved. The unfortunate victims of cap realities and suspensions may be players like Carter Ashton. The former first rounder looks like he could be an effective bottom six player, but may have to wait a bit longer for his opportunity at the NHL level.