It’s October and hockey is back. With it comes the unparalleled rush of seeing your team beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-3. Unfortunately, it also comes hand in hand with whistle-happy refs, clueless CBC commentators and a surplus of scraps. With their speed, pugilism and offensive prowess on full display, this looks like it will be another exciting year for the Maple Leafs.
Some notes from this Tuesday night throwdown:
-The Leafs first goal was a result of some interesting movement of both puck and bodies on the powerplay. JVR ended up with the goal on a pass that snuck through Price’s five hole, but the space down low was there for Bozak on the other side of the net as well. With a ridiculous amount of looks on the powerplay for Toronto, it’s pretty clear the team is adjusting to some strategical changes with the man advantage. Luckily, the units are virtually intact from last year and the residual chemistry was evident on a number of occasions.
-Montreal’s first tally capitalized on the disarray of the Gardiner-Ranger pairing, which was maybe the shakiest part of a shaky opening twenty for the Leafs. On a few occasions, Gardiner lost his footing or Ranger misplayed a puck. It’s just one game and both players are in personal situations that probably ratcheted up the nerves of the two talented defenders. For Gardiner, he knows he has to prove himself this season, especially with Randy Carlyle’s critical eye focused directly on him. With Ranger, this is his first NHL game after a lengthy personal leave. No judgement here, as they both settled down noticeably as the game went on despite a shorthanded goal against late in the third.
-This is the
Northeast Atlantic Division, and it has seen teams directly respond to the arms race that the Bruins and the Leafs have fueled in recent years. With enforcers on most teams in the division, tonight went (almost) as expected. Orr fought Parros (and took a rare loss), Fraser tussled with Moen , Ashton dropped them with Tinordi. Then, in a moment nobody wants to see, Orr and the ice took out Parros. With the excitement of the first three bouts fresh in everyone’s mind, this incident was a testament to the fine line between entertainment and endangerment that is the heart of the ongoing “fighting controversy” in this sport.
-Carter Ashton looked great in the preseason, but Troy Bodie trotted out his many years of NHL experience in an impressive showing on the night. He used his (surprising) speed and large frame to take the puck directly to the net a number of times. He also threw some hits and played a hard, simple game that probably has Carlyle wishing Troy was his son-in-law. Due to both age and cap implications, Bodie may be the one that sticks around instead of Ashton when bodies begin returning to the lineup.
-After Phaneuf authoritatively sniped the tying goal courtesy of a Kadri feed, Bozak gave the Leafs the lead with a shorthanded marker as the period was coming to a close. This was the accentuating point in a standout night by the Toronto penalty killers. An elite penalty kill was a boon to this club in last season’s shortened campaign, with some questioning the team’s ability to continue this success. So far, so good.
-Mason Raymond notched the fourth goal of the night after creating offense using his speed (you’ll hear that one often with the former Canuck). One overlooked facet of Raymond’s play this season is his transition to the Eastern Conference. In recent years, a free-flowing tilt like tonight’s match has been a very rare event in the tighter confines of the Western Conference. In part due to this difference, Raymond has been able to open up the ice with his speed and control the play with consistency and to good effect. A late-game checking combination of McClement-Bolland-Raymond was thrown over the boards as well – an indication of Carlyle’s growing trust in the speedster.
Taking the season opener on the road in Montreal is always a good feeling. That being said, it’s just one game, so don’t plan the parade yet (Leiweke’s got that covered). All in all, it’s great that hockey is back with a young Maple Leafs team that looks eager to improve on their strong work from a year ago. Toronto will be right back at it tomorrow night in Philadelphia, with Jonathan Bernier having the chance to best Reimer’s (characteristically solid) performance tonight.