Leafs 5 v. Habs 1: A Paradox
The Leafs continued their winning ways with a 5-1 victory over the old enemy. The Leafs started five Marlies on the blueline and the Habs responded with many AHLers giving this game more of a Marlies v. Bulldogs feel. However, the lineups did not keep the Leafs from putting together a very strong effort.
J-S Aubin picked up where he left off last season. He dealt with the few Montreal scoring chances in the same steady fashion that characterized the Leafs late season run. There were not too many second shots due to some strong rebound control and the steady presence of the young defence corps. In fact, the Habs' only goal could barely be considered a legitimate chance. Aubin unsuccessfully tried to ring the puck around the boards which led to a ricocheted shot from the point. Freland popped in the loose puck before the Leafs' tender could get his glove on the puck.
The five young defencemen mostly took advantage of their chance to showcase their skills. Jay Harrison showed a Jason Smith-like approach to the game. He was a strong presence around the net and was confident on the puck. Staffan Kronwall crashed into the boards feet first early in the first. He injured is right ankle and hopefully it is not as bad as it looked initially. Ian White shone on the powerplay where his patience on the puck made up for Kaberle's absence. Brendan Bell rounded out the trio of strong performances.
If these guys can keep it up over the weekend then they will be leaving JFJ with an incredibly tough decision. If I was handicapping the race I would have White and Bell in the lead with Harrison and Kronwall close behind. NOTE: Carlo will probably jump to the front of the line if he gets healthy. Andy Wozniewski had a bit of a rough night. Twice, hard cuts by Montreal forwards left him on his heels hoping to get bailed out by his teammates. He did, however, pick up an assist on Pohl's goal. He has a bit of work to do to get back into the picture.
On the forwards' side, Bates Battaglia continues to show flashes of 2002. He made good use of his strength and seems to have a bit of chemistry with John Pohl and his old 'Canes buddy Jeff O'Neill. Pohl looks good value for his acquisition fee (nothing) and one-way contract. He scored a goal and added a nice rush where he beat the Habs defenceman wide and almost tucked it between Halak's pads.
The paradox is that since these are the Leafs and this is the pre-season this win means absolutely nothing. Of course, Montreal has now lost all three games so they are probably more inclined to downplay the importance of the pre-season. However, an interesting stat is that last year Sabres were 6-2 in the fake season. That early momentum spurred a strong start to the regular season and a run to the Eastern Conference Final. The defence handled the forecheck like veterans.
Maple Leaf Goals
Montreal started off the game in a bit of penalty trouble. A beautiful five-way passing play moved the puck quickly from McCabe to White to Sundin to Wellwood who slid the puck cross crease to Tucker to slam the puck into the open cage. Wellwood was tried out on the wing in the hopes of providing Mats with a playmaker. It seemed to spur him to shoot more often which led to the second goal.
Sundin, who Maurice wants to have shooting a lot more this season, added a second power play goal just after the three minute mark. He corralled the puck on the half boards before launching a bullet from the right hand hash marks over Danis' shoulder.
This was the first of three even strength goals. Brad Leeb won an offensive zone faceoff cleanly back to Wozniewski who slid a backhand on net. Jon Pohl hammered home the rebound before Halak could react.
Aubin kicked out a rebound right onto Newbury's stick and he made a great pass to release Suglobov on a breakaway. He made a nice fake to the backhand, went back to his forehand, and slotted it in off the post. Ironically, aside from a good bit of backchecking in the second, Suglobov had been invisible.
A Craig Rivet clearing pass hit Sundin's fallen stick and was picked up by Wellwood. He dropped it to the now fully equipped Sundin who one-timed it at the net. Poni muscled away from his checker before slotting the rebound before the goalie could recover.
LeafsTV Three Stars