The End is Nigh!
After two weeks the seemingly interminable pre-season is nearing it's end. The Leafs have a home and home starting tonight in Detroit before setting the roster. The staggering amount of games played (from six to eight) can only be viewed as a corporate cash grab that does nothing to make a coach's decisions easier (a couple of games would serve to confirm a coach's pre-conceptions) and puts players at risk (Evgeni Malkin separating his shoulder and Joe Corvo breaking his foot are two examples).
However, because of injuries to the defence corps and a few open spots among the forwards, not to mention the Great Backup Debate, these last two games will offer up a few interesting stories to follow:
1. How will Andrew Raycroft deal with being 'The Man' in the hockey fishbowl that is Toronto?
These back-to-back games will be the first real look at this year's version of the Maple Leafs. We will get a good idea of how Raycroft will look behind a revamped defence and how he will do against one of the top teams in the NHL (32 saves against Montreal is nice but it's Montreal)
2. Will the players on the bubble cement a spot?
Andy Wozniewski will get a couple more shots to show that he deserves one of the open spots on the blueline. Bates Battaglia has probably done enough to get a fourth line spot but now is not the time to take his eyes off the prize. Especially considering that Jeff O'Neill is now on the bubble because of inconsistency throughout the pre-season. And Sergei Berezin Redux is going to have to show more offensive potential. If Suglobov can play a tight game, create chances, and NOT MAKE BLIND BACK PASSES then he will be a good bet to stay up with the Leafs.
3. How will the top line of Sundin, Ponikarovsky, and Wellwood fare?
This is going to be Maurice's top line. The key to this is whether Poni can keep up his play from the end of last season and whether Welly can make the transition to the wing despite taking a few good licks this pre-season. Maurice has already said that he will be getting the captain a lot more ice-time so the chemistry that this line develops will be key to the Leafs making a good start to the season.
4. Will the addition of Peca pay off?
Last year the Leafs had the 24th ranked penalty kill. This pre-season, largely without Peca, the Leafs are ranked 26th. However, he has already shown that he has the potential to single handedly turn this stat around by being a part of 15 straight penalty kills in his two pre-season appearances. Oiler Fans love to bash the Leafs for this pickup but if the Leafs can make serious progress in the PK then he will be worth every penny of his salary.