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Leafs opener: setting a tone or just a nice one-off?

I’ll look to post more extensively Sunday night, but some early reflections from the Leaf opener—a solid 2-1 win in Montreal:

The good
  • To make any bold pronouncements (how great specific lines are already, etc.) after one game is madness, in hockey terms.  But winning on the road is never a bad thing.
  • Kadri was dancing, and besides playing at times with a physical edge, most importantly, he simply looked confident all night—as though (perhaps ironically, eh?) he belonged.  Starting the season on the roster on the heels of a nice training camp has to feel good for the much-discussed young forward.
  • I can see Kostka becoming a fan favourite in Leafland.  Underdog story, came out of “nowhere” (though not really) and seems to have the kind of personality that will be embraced here.
  • Kostka played more than 22 minutes, more than anyone other than Phaneuf, and was strong in the final seconds of the game.
  • Franson played a dangerous two-on-one very smoothly late in the second period, helping the Leafs maintain a two-goal lead going into the final stanza. I have a sense that Franson is determined to prove he is a better defenseman than a lot of Leaf fans figured—after a less than impressive season a year ago under Wilson.
  • Scoring on the power play, twice.  Hey, that’s the objective. Nice start.
  • Until Gionta scored late in the third, the Leafs had also been flawless on the penalty kill.
  • Kudos to Scrivens.  Maybe a bit shaky at times and not tested a ton, he played with confidence for the most part, and I think he has plenty of that.  A more opportunistic opposition might have taken advantage of some rebounds, but he did the job. 
  • I’m guessing Carlyle will go with Scrivens until he loses a game.  As much as I hate to see Reimer lose his job basically due to the lockout-imposed inactivity, Carlyle has made it clear he will play whoever plays well—and wins.  Hard to argue with that.
  • Kessel quietly started the season with two points.
  • Komarov can play here. I doubt many fans are surprised.
  • The Leafs seemed to flag a bit in the third (they had to be tired), but overall, they won a lot of battles for the puck, and that has been one of Carlyle’s mantras this season:  win battles.
  • We’re going to hear the phrase “compete level” a lot this season.  It’s one of those overused terms in hockey nowadays, but the focus on competing is necessary for a squad that has not achieved anything in recent seasons. The willingness to compete is an achievable goal for any player—regardless of skill levels.

The reality check
  • Montreal was one of the very worst teams in the NHL last season.  They finished at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, and earned that designation.
  • Montreal’s roster is suspect at the best of times these days.  They have an elite goalie in Price, of course, but without Subban in the line-up, they are clearly vulnerable.  That’s not a potent offense.
  • Neither team had played a game for real in ages.  I’d be hesitant to place too much emphasis on one game against any team under these circumstances, but in particular I think we can say that beating Montreal is not necessarily a harbinger of things to come, though Leaf fans can hope.
  • Again, we're talking one game.

Around the league:
  • Luke Schenn was a plus 1 in a losing cause for the Flyers, playing just over 17 minutes.
  • Another ex-Leaf, Alex Steen, had two assists for the Blues in their win.
  • Nick Foligno scored in his first game for the Blue Jackets.
  • 800 year-old Alex Kovalev scored in his first game for the Panthers.
  • On that note, Jagr scored (twice) for the Star on opening night, too.
  • The young and talented Wojtek Wolski continued his pattern of showing well early on with his new team—this time in Washington. He scored in a losing cause.
  • Red Wings struggled early in St. Louis.  Age?  Just not the roster they used to be, more likely.  They’ll likely still be there at the end, but my annual pre-season “prediction” that they will fall back may finally come true.  They had 7 shots on goal in the first two periods in St. Louis, 14 overall in a 6-0 loss.  Ouch.
  • Erik Karlsson didn’t miss a beat for the Senators (2 points in a win).
  • Hossa, Kane and Toews all scored for the Hawks. If they’re healthy, glad the Leafs not playing the West this season.
  • The Kings would not have been raising a Cup banner if Quick’s save percentage in last spring’s playoffs was .773, as it was Saturday night.  (I know, it’s just one game…)
  • I’d be utterly shocked if the Kings repeated.  They’ve had time to rest, but likely also celebrated a lot.
  • I expect big things from Ryan Ellis in Nashville this season.  He scored Saturday night.
  • Jonathan Huberdeau scored in his first NHL game.
  • Dale Hunter is not behind the bench in Washington anymore.  You can tell.  The Caps gave up six goals.
  • Rask started the season as the new number-one in Boston and did well, though the Bruins were 0 for 7 on the power play. (He likely won't talk about the U.S. President this season.)
A win is a win is a win.  Leaf fans can feel good for a couple of days.  It’s been a long wait since an important victory and two big points for the blue and white. 



  1. Hey they won. That's good but man what a boring game. I watched the the Philly Pittsburgh game earlier and there was no comparasion between the two. The Leafs and Habs are definetly a level below those two.

    Kadri looked good. I hope he keeps it going. Kudos to the Leafs on a hard fought road game. As you said Michael a win is a win.

  2. Yes it was interesting, Willbur, that the game did not exactly have that electric feeling games in Montreal between Toronto and the Habs usually have. Especially given it was "opening night".

    I assume some of this has to do with the long layoff for so many players, the lack of exhibition games and the modest talent level on both squads. (Someone sent me a note that some other games Saturday night were a lot more intense...)

    It's just one game, but yes, it's a win- and two points. Thanks Willbur.

  3. Like you said, Michael, too early for conclusions, except for one; winning sure feels more fun than losing, doesn't it?

    Some interesting results and names popping up on the opening night. Veterans Kovalev and Jagr had strong starts, and then Teemu Selänne scored twice and added a couple of assists as the Ducks beat the Canucks at Vancouver. Cory Schneider made way for Luongo after saving just 9 of 14 shots.

    Those strong starts by the veterans might be surprising for some, but some hockey players are more professional than others, and those three would've been long gone if they were the kind to slack off instead of keeping fit. We'll see how well they can recuperate between games on a busy schedule, but it's no surprise they showed up ready and prepared for the opening night.

    What was more of an eyebrow-raiser for me, was the big losses for Detroit, LA and Vancouver. Too early to bury any of them yet, but they have little time to get themselves sorted out. If the Kings, for example, have been celebrating for a bit longer than necessary, their season could go down the drain in a hurry.

    Well, it's great to be finally underway. Hopefully the Leafs can keep building momentum on Monday.

  4. What I took from this win is that the Leafs overall looked like they were playing to Carlyle’s system.

    They looked like the team they will have to be this year - a little boring and not quite as run and gun as under the Wilson years.

    Although it is not an entertaining brand of hockey there were very few, and certainly no extended periods of time in their own zone where the opposition appeared to be able to attack at will.

    Mike Komasarek did something I have seen him do very rarely since he has signed here - line people up along the boards and actually hit them.

    There were a couple of times when he absolutely erased Canadiens forwards attempting to streak down the wing. However you wouldn't have known it if you were watching CBC because Jim hughson doesn't seem to think big hits are worthy of comment.

    Also how about Craig Simpson raving about Carey Price and going on about Ben Scrivens struggling when the leafs were up 2-0???

    Of course this may last only until the league gets their legs and wind which might lead to the return of him missing more checks than he connects with.

    I love the three lines and the potential for offense from the kessel group, grabovski line or the kadri/komorov/jvr combo

    However methinks Carlyle doesn't trust all these guys defensively.

    The biggest surprise for me was that Kulemin looked invisible despite having played in the KHL and at a high level all year.

    (I don't have a website anymore so I am logging in anonymously)

  5. You're absolutely right about players like Kovalev, Jagr and of course, the rather remarkable Sellane. It was nice to see them all show so well on opening night.

    As for the Leafs, winning beats losing every time, eh, CGLN? On to Monday night and the Sabres.

  6. Agreed, Meatriarchy- the Leafs played the way they will need to under Carlyle (and to have success). We knew this was coming- a very different approach than what we saw under Wilson, one that most fans loved until the team hit the skids.

    Not the best opposition they will face, but they are playing the East exclusively this season, so who knows?

    If Komisarek can deliver minutes - and a physical presence - that will certainly help.

    On Kuli, not sure. it's early, though not for him.

    Thanks Meatriarchy.

  7. I was happy with the performance last night, but keeping my optimism in check because this was a Montreal team without Subban. Monday against the Sabres might be a better test.

    I thought the game was exciting, especially the first two periods. I was amazed at how quickly the Leafs were getting the puck out of the defensive zone...and often back on offense. That's something I haven't seen in years.

    The timing seemed off for Lupul, Kulemin and Grabovski...but Kessel looked in mid-season form.

    Komorov looked terrific. You would never want to play against him so it's unlikely that he will ever be traded. Start thinking about him as a Leaf staple for this era.

    Bring on the real test in Buffalo. They play Philly in an hour at 12:30, so I will take some time to scout our enemy

  8. You can bet the Leafs will be watching "the enemy" as well this afternoon, DP!

    Agree on Komarov. He should become a fixture, because he plays with the attitude that Carlyle wants to see.

    I think it's to be expected that some guys won't have their legs or their game yet- maybe even, as you cite, some of the guys who played in Europe. We'll know more in a couple of weeks.

  9. I for one tried to just enjoy that the Leafs were playing again, and winning. It was hard to resist looking for signs that they are buying in to a system and playing a solid game that can bring success. Last night by and large I think I saw that. True, it's hard to get excited about a single game. We need to see if we are watching the same style and intensity a few months from now.

    A few players did look a little rusty, whether due to inactivity or not. Lupul and van Reimsdyk seemed clumsy at times. I have to say, defensively as a whole they were solid enough that they never had to resort much to big game saving plays.

    Moving forward I'd love to see players like Kessel play a 200 foot game like he did last night. If our scoring forwards can add a bit of physicality every night, we might see a very different team. I was impressed with the play of Komarov and McClement, they have already shown hopeful signs of what this team needs moving forward.

    Can't really criticize goaltending of course, Scrivins was barely tested. It remains to be seen of course, whether we stay the course with Reimer and whether that will pay off.

  10. 'd like to believe that the team has no choice but to embrace Carlyle's "system", Pete. It won't be entertaining most nights, but winning generally trumps entertainment. (Most fans would likely rather win 2-1 than lose 6-5.)

    Everyone is pumped up for opening night. Better - and more telling- tests no doubt lie ahead.

  11. Great to get the W, no question. Overall, both teams looked a little off to me, with the ex-Marlies looking best. But neither team is first tier, as a look at the Philly/Pens, St Louis/Wings or Boston/Rangers games showed.
    The "K's" were the story - Kadri, Kostka, Komarov and Kulemin (defensively) had strong games, to my eyes.
    Although it's definitely way too early to get a read on teams, I have no illusions about Leafs making the playoffs this year - in fact, I don't think it's all that important. What's getting my hopes up (again) is that we look like we're going somewhere, that we're on an uptick that will continue. And that's very heartening!

  12. Nice way to start the season. Always great to beat Montreal, especially at the Bell Centre.

    It looks as if the players have bought into Carlyle's system. I agree with Meatriarchy that it was refreshing to not see the Leafs penned in their own zone for entire shifts.

    I have been reading numerous articles that have stated that the Leafs made only one significant change from last season (JvR for Schenn) and that they are essentially the same team. Funny that three of their better players last night were named Kovalev, McClement and Kostka. Add in Kadri and Scrivens (who spent the majority of time with the Marlies) and a new more defensively responsible system and I believe that they have made meaningful and positive changes.

    Numerous commentaters have stressed the fact that Montreal was not at full strength with Subban missing but I have yet to hear any one of them mention that the Leafs were missing Gardiner.

    I like the makeup of this Leaf team. It is a more complete hockey team than those in recent years.

  13. Your perspective is realistic, Gerund O'. The "hope" is more a product of the possibility that the team may build something for the future, not so much have short-term success this season. Still lots of pieces needed to flesh this picture out, for sure.

  14. Par tof the hope may well be, PeteCam, that the team does seem to be a bit more well-rounded. Komarov, Kostka and Kadri do add something, and I'm betting van Riemsdyk will as well, when he finds his legs.

    Gardiner will indeed make his presence felt when he returns.

  15. Happy with the win, but as Wilbur said, ended up being a pretty boring game. Not sure if that is just a case of early fatigue setting in getting used to playing again or what. Def. did not have the intensity as the Pitt/Phi game. Then again, might see that level when Leafs play Ottawa, which I feel is becoming more the rivalry than with the Habs.

  16. Anon- I inadvertently responded to your comment in my Quinn/Carlyle response section today...