Custom Search

Game 1, Habs-Leafs: Something old, something new…

I’m guessing that we all love and appreciate summertime, but is anyone disappointed that hockey season is here?  The Leafs and Dave Nonis have certainly been busy in the days leading up to opening night.  Franson’s holdout ended, a while after Kadri finally signed.  Then, as I’ve discussed here for weeks, a situation that needed to be dealt with before the regular season began was: Phil Kessel put pen to paper, inking his 8-year, 64 million dollar extension. 

Morgan Rielly is still here, and Carter Ashton made the opening night roster as well, though Rielly watched from upstairs against the Habs.

You’ll hear me say, as I have in the past, I don’t make much out of opening nights.  They’re fun, but not necessarily any kind of indicator of what is to come.  We’ll have some serious discussions here at VLM after, say, 20 games have been played.  Nonetheless, some observations from Game One:
  • The Leafs should have two power-play units with the potential to be effective.  Those units ought to be even stronger when Clarkson returns, given that he can create havoc around the net.
  • On the question of the power-play, it was good to see van Riemsdyk in his ‘usual’ spot around the opposition net.  Perched there, he scored the team’s first goal on the PP after calling for the puck and then banking it in off Price from just off the crease.
  • Ranger and Gardiner got caught up with the same man, creating an opportunity for Montreal’s first goal.  Then Gunnarsson fell and Phaneuf couldn't do anything about it when Montreal took that 2-1 first-period lead.
  • On the Leaf equalizer in the second, Leaf forwards went to the net (always a good thing) and Kadri did what he does so well:  find the open man.  Phaneuf’s wrister beat Price high. It was good to see the captain use the wrist shot.
  • I thought Reimer made some pretty good saves early on and looked confident despite giving up those two first-period markers.
  • It was encouraging to see Mark Fraser back and healthy after his injury in last spring’s playoffs. His third-period tussle suggests he won’t be any less physical this season.
  • Kessel was dangerous for the Leafs in the first period (at both ends; he ended the period a -2), creating a lot of shots, though not necessarily great scoring chances.
  • Ashton took a good hit midway through the second period but bounced back.  He continued his feisty play in the third, culminating in a dust-up with Tinordi.  However, he played very limited minutes.
  • A Colton Orr hit took Pacioretty off for a while, but the Montreal forward returned.
  • Orr played a total of what, 3 minutes overall?
  • Markov looked his age on a few occasions for Montreal, including on a giveaway that didn’t cost the Habs, then on his weak effort when Bozak stole the puck and scored a shorthanded beauty to give the Leafs a 3-2 lead with less than three minutes to play in the second period. (We’ve seen Bozak do that before…)
  • I liked Ranger’s work on that same penalty kill.  Reimer made some big saves to keep it 3-2 at that point.
  • The Parros injury in the final stanza was yet another unfortunate outcome of a fight.  Though it was not because of a punch from Orr, the subsequent spill and serious injury was rooted in hockey’s never-ending ‘have to fight’ culture.
  • A fortuitous bounce from his own would-be pass allowed a quick thinking Mason Raymond to give the Leafs a crucial insurance goal in the third period.
  • Bodie netted an assist in a workmanlike effort, playing about 8 minutes in all.
  • Hearts were likely fluttering in Leafworld when Ellar scored late to make it 4-3.  But the Leafs played hard to the end.
  • I have to believe that the game was important to Reimer.  He was injured early against the Habs at the Molson Centre (is that what it's called now? Even though it's a 'new' building, it will always be the Montreal Forum to me...) early in the 2011'-12 season; last year he was not the Game one starter on the road against the Habs. Not vindication, but satisfying, I'm sure. He wasn't perfect, but he was solid overall.
  • Franson played 25 minutes.  I'm thinking he'll earn that next contract.
  • Overall, I thought it was a much more entertaining “opening night” than Game One of the labour-shortened 2012-’13 season this past January after only a week of training camp.
I’ll make no pronouncements of a serious sort after viewing one solitary game.  But the Leafs will be, I sense, a difficult team to play against most nights.  They have enough sandpiper, enough savvy in the faceoff circle, enough goaltending and enough skill to be a competitive squad.  Like most developing teams learning to win on a consistent level (and when it really matters) they have a ways to go, but we’re at least part way up the mountain, now.

What’s familiar?  Names like Kessel, Phaneuf, Lupul and Gunnarsson, who have been here for years.  But they have a better supporting cast now, and that matters.  There are some new elements to our game, qualities that Ranger, Bolland, a wanting-to-impress Ashton, and before long, Clarkson (not to mention Bernier) will bring to the table.

For what it’s worth, I’d go with Bernier in Philly.  Not because Reimer doesn’t deserve another start (“win and you’re in”), but to ensure the new guy gets his work in early.  At that point, I’m thinking the goaltending “competition” will kick into high gear.

It’s only one game, but a win is always a good way to start a new year. Thoughts?


  1. Thoughts?

    Bodie looked better than I expected.

    Mason Raymond scored a goal, so my prediction of him as the surprise source of key goals this season is coming true.

    Late in the game, that line of Raymond, Bolland and McClement looked like a killer defensive line.

    1. If Raymond can help defensively, that would be a big plus for sure, DP. Thanks.

  2. The Leafs never stop skating, never stopped competing, which was good to see. I thought our young defencemen played well and I was pleasantly surprised but, as usual, I was holding my breath in the last minutes of the game as Montreal stormed back.
    I thought Reimer was solid but I wish he would stay in the net and let his defencemen do their job. I have confidence in his ability to stop a shot if the other team retrieves the puck. You can't stop anything if you're caught behind your own net. He often ends up blocking his own players and they have no idea where the puck is going to end up. I know James wants to help his team anyway he can but this causes so much confusion and it's something he has always done. C.N.

    1. What you are describing C.N. seems like, yes, Reimer wanting to do too much, but it's also maybe a simple communication issue that could be fairly easily resolved. Familiarity with his defense group as the season wears on should help! Thanks C.N.

    2. I agree that communication is a problem especially in an arena such as Montreal's where there is so much noise and excitement. It would have to be non-verbal. I can also see that good communication is learned with experience and it's easier for a veteran than a younger player.
      I think a much stiffer penalty or even a fine for taking off your helmet might help to curb fighting and could result in more punches to the body and less to the the head. If fighting is here to stay we can still make it safer for the players involved. Unfortunately nothing but a full cage would have helped Parros. Thanks, Michael. C.N.

  3. Hi Michael

    I missed most of the first period last night but thought it was an entertaining game with the exception for that unfortunate Parros injury. From the Leafs' perspective that incident benefited them greatly as it left the whole Montreal team in a daze for the next 10 minutes. I am not sure how the Leafs would have handle the attack if the Parros' injury didn't happen.

    Several players stood out for me last night

    Gardiner - His play was frustrating. It appeared as if he was just not comfortable and trying to prove way too much by running around to cover poor positional play and decisions. The same way that I see Reilly does during exhibition. Trying to use his skating to offset the poor positioning and simple mistakes but compounding it further by panicking. With Reilly, I'd understand but Gardiner play should be much better, given his experience. Hopefully, just need to calm down and let the play come to him as the season progress.

    Kulimen - I didn't think he was even dressed.

    Boland - Exactly what is expected and although he did not score on some glorious chances was very good

    Raymond - Even though he scored, I don't think he played well. He needs to do more.

    Bodie - delivered more than expected for a 4th liner...which was not a lot. Definitely more effective than Mclaren and if he could get more physical maybe close to the same level as Fraser, there will never be a need to dress McLaren and Orr

    Ashton - played way bettered than previous stints. I like the aggression and it seems like "I am happy just be here" is gone.

    Phaneuf - Again overplayed and you could see that he was not as affective as the night worn on. Great goal though

    Reimer was excellent and can't be blame for any of the goals although tend to overplay.

    Fraser - did exactly what was needed and I thought he timely neutralized Moen and Prust effectively.

    Other points
    Face off needs to be much better - consistently losing the draws will pressure the defence.

    1. Plenty of good observations there, Lukas (and lots that I agree with...). Just to pick one, Gardiner will be an interesting study this season. So much talent, yet so much (in my view) to work on- being harder on the puck, smarter, less skating in wide circles, less automatically jumping int the play, etc.) Thanks Lukas.