About an hour before game time on Monday night, I tweeted that it felt like “a Kulemin night”.
Now, the fact that Kulemin stepped up late in the game to pot the game-tying goal hardly makes me a prophet. Nik didn’t have a particularly outstanding night, but did save a point for the blue and white late in the game by keeping the puck in at the blueline and then winding his way to the net, where he was able to deposit a bad rebound from Giggy for the 2-2 marker.
But he did score a big goal, so I guess I’ll take modest credit for that.
It’s hard to argue with 7 points in only four games. The Leafs showed a lot of tenacity in the third period (if they had played that way earlier, they would likely have walked away from a tired Avs team…) but credit to Colorado. They, like the Leafs, have a young squad with potential and they are riding some early-season momentum, having now won five in a row on the road after losing their opening game.
Observations on the good and not-so-good four games into this new season:
- Kessel continues to be dangerous. It will be interesting to see if his productivity ebbs and flows as it historically has, or if he is able to put up points on a steadier basis than in the past. Not many people are expecting him to keep up this pace, of course. But if he can avoid prolonged streaks without points, he will step into another class of offensive player.
- Phaneuf is all over the ice and these days, that’s a good thing. (Last season, not s much, as he was caught up ice often when he was trying to make things happen and was often criticized because of his penchant for jumping into the play in the offensive zone.) I’m not quite sure yet if he is making better decisions as to when to join the attack or if he has been fortunate not to get burned. I guess we’ll see as the season progresses.
- This “activate the defense” thing is not new for Wilson, in terms of what he wants to see, (and exemplified by Phaneuf this season) but the Leafs this season seem more capable of making that happen, with Phaneuf, Liles and Franson (Gunner, too) all able to skate and move the puck.
- Schenn saw more modest minutes, again. He is working through some early-season yipps. While it is likely simply a short-term issue, it will be worth watching where his confidence goes from here. We recall that that was an issue in his sophomore season.
- On the winning goal, I’m not entirely certain why Franson drifted over to where Liles seemed to have his man under control. Before you know it, the puck was in the back of the Leaf net. Not to pin that all on Franson, but I’m guessing Wilson won’t be thrilled with Franson’s effort (or instincts, one or the other) on that particular play.
- Reimer made some awfully big saves when the score was 2-1. He continues to show the ability to bounce back after bad goals, or keep the Leafs within a goal in the third period of games.
- One quick aside: doesn’t it feel like Hejduk has been around forever?
- For his part, Giguere looked good most of the night, but the rebound left for Kulemin was a bad one. Still, it was a strong night for the ex-Leaf overall.
- Along with Schenn, I would also put MacArthur on the early season “watch list”. The suspension meant that he couldn’t start the season when he wanted to, and it seems to be taking him a bit of time to get going. Kulemin hasn’t quite been himself just yet, either, though the goal may help.
- Steckel continues to win face-offs in his own end and he won one for Kessel that could have been the game late in the third.
- I just like the way Gunnarsson plays. Another 24 minutes of generally low-key but sound positional play.
- I know somebody has the stat somewhere, but the Leafs still have a very good record with Colby Armstrong in the line-up. (I put virtually no stock in that stat, but what the heck…)
One more at home, then a road trip that, frankly, may tell us more about this year’s team than the first handful of home games. I’m guessing Gustavsson gets his first start of the season on the road, in Montreal, October 22. But Wilson could surprise us and start the Monster this Wednesday against the Jets.