I won’t pen a long post (that will probably turn out to be a lie…), but I’ll comment on a few players who were significant in the road win in Pittsburgh. It’s entirely possible, by the way, that I was watching the wrong game, but it just struck me that Crosby wasn’t really the Crosby we often see and that Malkin was largely disinterested in, well, exerting himself. (If one of our guys turned the puck over in front of his own goal like Malkin did on the second van Riemsdyk goal, we’d talk about it on Twitter for two days.) When that stuff happens, you have to take advantage—and the Leafs did.
Our guys? To me, they look a fair bit like they did the last two seasons in the first handful of games. Skating hard most of the time, playing pretty smart. This could be the early days of the 2010-’11 or 2011’-12, in some ways. But I will grant that they may have a bit more edge to their game at times, though we weren’t complaining when they were winning last season, either.
I know some may rush to credit Carlyle for a “great start” (2 wins in 3 games, maybe 3 in 4 games if they win at home Thursday against the middlish Islanders) and will applaud his line juggling. (And his appeal to van Riemsdyk and Grabovski to play harder, which paid off against Pittsburgh, at least…) And hey, there is nothing not to like about starting the season with two wins already, or in only giving up 5 goals in the first three games of the season with our two “young, inexperienced” goalies. But we all know to be cautious, right?
Still, we can enjoy the moment.
Specific Leafs against the Pens?
Reimer—was not sharp on the two he allowed, but you have to like that, as he did in his first half season with the Leafs, he fought back and held his team in the game until they came back to win it, after giving up a head scratcher. He was better as the game progressed, I thought. Made some pretty tough stops. I admit I wondered why Carlyle threw him in against a top team on the road when Scrivens was into the season and ready to go. But kudos to Reimer for hanging in. He could have caved after either goal he gave up but didn’t.
Phaneuf—Like last season, he is starting the year very, very well. Still playing big minutes which may eventually fatigue him, but for now, this is the “good Dion”.
Kadri—what can we say? I think Carlyle sees him as the most dangerous guy we have, besides Kessel. Not as fast or explosive, obviously, but as Don Cherry says, those “magic hands” do create offense. Wednesday night, it was a quick little shift from his off wing to the middle of the ice, and a pass/shot re-directed home by the enigmatic MacArthur. A simple little play turned things around for the Leafs and gave them some jump.
Kostka--sorry to have jumped on the bandwagon of a guy I would not have known (as Pat Burns said about Bill Berg in the early ‘90s) if I fell over him (I don’t feel bad saying it, given Burns was a top NHL coach and he didn’t seem to have a clue who Berg was…). But Kostka is just a lot of fun to watch. Almost 24 minutes on the ice last night. 27 minutes against Buffalo. Go figure, eh?
Colton Orr—I’m not sports psychologist and don’t particularly love fighting in hockey at this point in my life, but has Orr given the team (like Brown) a boost with his heavyweight tussles? Don’t know.
Van Riemsdyk—it’s funny. We talked about a line switch on our LeafMatters podcast after the Buffalo game. Before I heard it was even a consideration, I thought Carlyle would switch van Riemsdyk with Kulemin. Instead, he switched MacArthur with the ex-Flyer and both guys scored.
Komisarek—the much-maligned Komisarek was plus 3. That never hurts.
Kulemin—A lot of us have been struggling to see if Kulemin looks any better this season. He's been trying, but he seemed to have a fair bit of determination against the Penguins, and 3 assists usually makes for a nice night.
Kessel--was his usual dangerous self. The puck is not going in for him yet, but that’s OK. Hopefully the puck will start going in when we need it down the road.
Gunnarsson—I don’t frankly know if Gunnarsson was that much better than he had been in the earlier sort of nondescript games that he had, but he was also a plus 3. I’m generally happy when I don’t notice him.
Bozak—many of us may not see him as a front-line center, but he played more than 23 minutes against one of the best teams in the East, on the road, and we won 5-2.
Hey, it was nice to see Gardiner back. Lupul got banged up, which probably means Frattin draws back in.
Leafs got some good bounces (the second van Riemsdyk marker and then the Grabbo goal), but took advantage of them. I honestly thought Pittsburgh wasn’t real sharp. They looked ‘off’, but the Leafs were full measure for the road win. They went to the net (on the MacArthur and first van Riemsdyk goals), though they haven’t exactly been that kind of team. That’s what Carlyle wants and, well, if they can do it consistently, it would add a dimension to their offense that has not always been there in recent years.
I’m not in the predicting business, so I’ll just take this season one game at a time. I can use clichés, too, just like the players.