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?