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Breaking Down The Preseason Performances

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs preseason ended with Saturday's 4-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings and let me just say the notion of an exhibition season report card strains credulity.

It’s preseason for God’s sake. Scientists, some from accredited institutions, say that come February the average hockey-loving adult devotes just as many memory cells to the preseason as he does to his sixth grade science fair.

Veterans are playing their way into shape. Long shots who walk through rookie camp and onto the big league roster come around as often as regime changes in Libya.  Contracts, the financial mechanics of the game and a half-dozen other factors put the lie to the notion that the preseason actually matters. For most players, the whole point is to not get hurt.

Very well then, let’s get to it.

The Best:
Mikhail Grabovski: Pulling away as the Leafs’ best forward, Grabovski limped off the bench in the Detroit game after taking a pass in the foot. An X-ray showed no break. Grabovski  is playing as hard now as he did last season. Guy is a gamer.

Jake Gardiner: Gardiner endured a horrific night Saturday. Twice he let his man go for tap in-goals, a perfect scoring chance scooted over his stick and he was caught-flatfooted on a breakaway. That said, Gardiner has been the Leafs best defenceman in the preseason. He is offensively unconscionable but fast enough to atone for virtually any up-ice mistake. He has excellent puckhandling, passing and shooting skills. He sees the ice as well as anyone on the team. He is a difference maker and it will be usually good but sometimes bad. The reasons for and against keeping Gardiner are legion.  Playing 25 minutes a night in the minors probably wouldn’t  hurt his development but keeping him with the big club benefits him through the mentorship of John-Michael Liles, an offensive defenceman who himself was  schooled  by Rob Blake in Colorado.

Dion Phaneuf: Phaneuf has delivered a good preseason and inched his game up confidently through his four games. He looks ready to go and shows no signs of a backslide after a superb finish to last season.

Mike Brown: Brown came off the injured list blocking shots. He scored twice in his first preseason game. If you are going to just play two games, might as well show your best.

John-Michael Liles: Nothing not to like about Liles whose speed and puck movement skills were desperately needed.

Matt Frattin:
In his first big-league preseason, Frattin has looked very good. His game is well-rounded and Leafs coach Ron Wilson snapped heads back when he predicted Frattin would be a better pure goalscorer than Nazem Kadri. The knee injury to Kadri means he has a spot.

Carl Gunnarsson: Slow starter the last two years has delivered a polished performance. Just getting better.

The Next:
Mike Komisarek: After a summer of excruciating attention to a raw food diet, Komisarek must be down about 20 pounds and seems a hair more mobile. If he is your fifth or sixth defenceman, you’re fine.

Tyler Bozak: After a two-goal night in his first preseason game, Bozak has been tripped up by injuries and played in just two games. No problem with his play in the slim body of work.

Nikolai Kulemin: Solid and as usual the consensus choice for the Leafs top two-way forward.

Clarke MacArthur: Was delivering a nice camp until suspension. Won’t be back until October 15.

Joey Crabb/Darryl Boyce:  Dedicated pluggers treat every game, preseason or not, as if it could be their last. Honest guys who could earn a place on the fourth line.

Colby Armstrong: Consistent, smart player rounding nicely into form after injury-decimated season.

Nazem Kadri: Drew your gaze but had only two assists in five games before lost for two to four weeks with a knee injury.

Jay Rosehill: Another honest player who seems destined to provide up-front grout.

Jonas Gustavsson: Probably outplayed Reimer for what it’s worth. Solid showing.

Luke Schenn: As low key as always. You only notice Schenn when he errs which is to say hardly at all.

The Rest:
Phil Kessel: Good thing he gets paid for what he does in the regular season. He leads the team in shots, which is good. Has one goal, which isn’t: “I would have liked to have seen hi, score a few more goals for his own confidence,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. “Phil is going to have a good week of practice and bear down and score in practice. Then he will feel good for his game against Montreal.”

Joffrey Lupul: Who?

Cody Franson: A slow transition for Franson who has played both the left and the right side.

Matt Lombardi: Too soon to tell anything but his first game in a year passed without incident. Will take a while for his great speed to re-assert himself. Could be the windfall acquisition of the off-season.

Keith Aulie: Okay.

James Reimer:  Passable preseason for Reimer but no sign of last year’s game changer. The regular season doesn’t start until Thursday, for crying out loud. “You don’t like to give up four goals in a game but as far as the fundamentals are concerned, I am feeling better by the game,” Reimer said. “I think I am in a good spot mentally and physically.”

Briefly: Mike Zigomanis won 19 of 22 draws and was sent steadily into the dot after Grabovski left the game with a minor foot injury. Grabovski should be good to go for Thursday’s opener against Montreal.  The Leafs will announce their next cuts on Monday. The two-game suspension meted out to Clarke MacArthur might mean a reprieve for Zigomanis who played well against Detroit.  Wilson said Connolly wasn’t recovering as well as he had hoped from an upper body injury so it’s impossible to predict whether Connolly will play against Montreal. Tyler Bozak has been practicing and should be good to go.
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