The Maple Leafs and the Red Wings both decided to save their best for the regular season and ice watered down rosters for the last game of the pre-season. Beyond that, I will spare you a lengthy introduction and jump right to the game:
#1: Prospects Look Hungry to Start
The first period opens with a welcome increase in pace compared to the end of last night’s effort. The kids know they are on Hockey Night in Canada and they look to have brought their ‘A’ games with them. D’Amigo creates scoring chances on his first three shifts with a solid fore-check. McKegg uses his speed and smarts to create a two-on-one rush, but Colton Orr takes the pass in his skates. Colborne looks good skating down the wing, but has trouble converting the effort into something meaningful. The Leafs mostly control the play to start the game.
Morgan Rielly continues to show flashes of being NHL ready. He is far from flawless, but he is able to use his speed to get back into the play so effectively that it rarely seems to matter. More frustrating is how often he looks to have created something, only for the play to fall apart at the last second. A few times in the first period he managed to get loose in the offensive zone with guys rushing towards open ice, or at the net. His passes seem to be constantly- ever so slightly – just off the mark. It would be nice to see him play with the likes of Kessel and company when they aren’t giving their pre-season effort. We need him to move from looking dangerous, to being dangerous, and I don’t think that evolution is far off.
NOTE: This trend continued throughout the game.
#3: Using the Points
Detroit seems to have made a concerted effort to use the points whenever they get the chance. It started after their first scoring chance of the game when Nyquist created a three-on-two streaking down the left wing. Once the rush attempt is over, the team seems to blindly throw the puck back to the points as quickly as they possibly can. Meanwhile, the point man is just looking to throw the puck towards the net as quickly as he can. Some will say that is just hockey, but it looks to me like this is game plan being executed. We will see if this becomes a trend this year.
Reimer looked a bit shaky in the first period. An early shot confused him, and a shot later in the period fell underneath him, but he had no idea where it was. He also had an opportunity to move the puck and elected to needlessly freeze it instead. That said, when all was said and done, nothing got past him.
NOTE: Reimer needlessly froze the puck again in the second period and it nearly resulted in a goal off the ensuing face-off. Surprisingly the HNIC crew came to Reimer’s defense, noting that he did it because Liles and Rielly were dead tired.
#5: Barb Underhill
A very interesting part of the evening came during the first intermission when Ron MacLean interviewed Barb Underhill. She credits her understanding of skating to Mike Gartner, and the way she studied his stride. She notes that Lupul is lightning fast now – like butter. Kadri has an extra gear she is working on unlocking. Clarkson caught her eye as someone with a really pure glide. She’s very excited about how far Ashton has come with his skating. She is spending a ton of time with many of the prospects; mentioned Devane, Broll and a few others.
#6: Second Period
Leafs keep the pressure up in the second frame. Bodie and D’Amigo create offense on the first shift, and Kadri follows it up by drawing a penalty. And yes, you heard correctly, the referees called a penalty against Detroit – an interference call no less. The man advantage doesn’t generate much with lots of guys getting a chance throughout the two minutes. Kadri and Raymond follow it up a very speedy two-on-one rush that results in a brilliant save by Mrazek. D’Amigo springs Bodie to keep the momentum going, and Mrazek makes a nice save on the back-hand.
#7: The Pace Slows
Around the midway mark of the second period the game started to slow down and become a neutral zone battle. The Red Wings do have a way of removing emotion from the equation. Not much in the way of big hits or physical play in this one, and I think that has less to do with the Leafs being unwilling, and more to do with the Red Wings doing their thing.
Finally towards the back-end of the second period MacWilliam throws a couple hits and the combination of Kadri, Raymond and Rielly gets a little energy going. Rielly stays deep and it nearly results in a Raymond wraparound goal.
#8: Leivo from Franson
On the very next shift, MacWilliam dishes to Franson who throws it at the net for a very nice Leivo tip. MacWilliam has looked very good so far tonight, and picking it up as time goes on.
#9: Liles from Colborne
If the rumors of these two being packaged together have any merit, this goal certainly doesn’t hurt.
The shift two previous to this goal, Liles had a shot on net, and it was the first time I’d heard his name all night – which was somewhat shocking to me because he was of course paired with Rielly, who seemed to be everywhere. Clearly his role tonight was to be cautious, fall back, and let Morgan do his thing. When given the chance offensively though, he wired his point shot into the top corner. I really believe this guy has more game than Carlyle is willing to acknowledge.
#10: Third Period
The Leafs came out in the third looking like they thought they already won the game. For the first time in the contest the Wings maintained some zone time, and not surprisingly, continued utilizing the points. A screened shot came down in front of the net onto the stick of a Red Wing who forced Reimer to make his best save of the night. That series of events seemed to shock the Leafs out of their apathy.
#11: Leivo Scores Again
Liles – looking more confident moving around the offensive zone – is able to keep the puck in a couple times and work it around with Rielly. Eventually he gets a shot off that is blocked and goes right onto the stick of Leivo, who cashes in for his second of the evening. Colborne draws the assist. He’s been in the right place at the right time tonight, and that counts for something.
#12: Burst of Momentum
After the goal the whole team seemed to come back to life for a bit. Kadri and Raymond were dancing around the zone, and trying to make something happen behind the net. There is some chemistry there, but it looks like Kadri needs to be the one with the puck on his stick. Still during this little burst of energy, MacWilliam makes a very nice offensive zone pinch and comes right down to the net, nearly scoring a tap-in goal to go up 4-0. Is it possible this kid has an offensive game that could be developed, too?
#13: It Never Fails
A failed opportunity at one end results in a goal at the other. Leivo gets a breakaway after working hard to break up the play developing at the point, but gets knocked off the puck and only managed to get a weak shot away. The play turns back the other way and you knew before Mitch Callahan even got close to Reimer that he was going to score – that’s just the law of hockey.
NOTE: I loved the way Leivo broke up the point efforts of the Wings, and you could tell that Kindl was surprised that someone was there to bother him. I really wish Carlyle would do have our guys do this occasionally rather than always immediately collapsing.
The Maple Leafs will finish the pre-season with a 5-2-1 record. It was a pretty strong effort by the young Leafs tonight. Detroit was kept pretty much in check, and their offense felt anemic. Good fore-checking forward lines and mobile puck-moving defenders combined for the kind of effort we hope our NHL players can regularly bring against NHL competition. No one was hurt, and it looks like Reimer solidified himself as the starting goaltender for Montreal on Tuesday.
- Rielly: looking very impressive, but nothing really coming of it
- D’Amigo: forechecking hard, creating scoring chances, diving to make plays
- MacWilliam: smart, efficient plays, couple of good shots at the net, gets an apple, threw some hits
- Leivo: Hard to say he wasn’t impressive with 2 goals, but there was definitely a little bit of right place right time with him. He actually got better after scoring, when all the confidence went to his legs
- Percy: Just a very solid and reliable guy, nothing flashy, but also, nothing stupid
Standout Bubble Players
- Bodie: Looking very good next to D’Amigo; by far the most noticeable he’s been
- Smith: Obviously doing something right on that D’Amigo line