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Leafs A Work In Progress

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
RELATED: A Closer Look: Leafs Blanked By Senators | Recap

VIDEO: Game In Six | Wilson | Gunnarsson | Phaneuf | Versteeg | Hanson | Kadri
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Time for some great news: remember how good the Leafs were in pre-season last year?  I think we know how that ended up.

This time around, the Leafs looked decidedly off-key in Tuesday’s 5-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators at Air Canada Centre.

The Leafs could not score when gifted with six straight second-period penalties including a trio of two-man advantages. In fact, they mustered only five shots on all those opportunities and Ottawa goalie Robin Lehner handled them routinely. The closest the Leafs came to scoring was a shot off the goalpost in the game’s penultimate minute.

The result will be forgotten by the time the two teams meet on Wednesday night. But for one night at least, it mattered.

Jesse Winchester, Nick Foligno, Corey Locke, Chris Neil and Chris Kelley scored for the Sens. Two of those goals came at the expense of Jonas Gustavsson who still managed to stop 16 of 18 shots. The rest were charged to rookie Jussi Rynnas.

Among the regulars the Leafs held out were Mike Komisarek, Luke Schenn, Colton Orr, Nikolai Kulemin Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak.  Look for those players in the rematch Wednesday.

You need to know that Nazem Kadri did little to solidify his bid for a job. Playing with veterans Colby Armstrong and Kris Versteeg, Kadri finished -1 with one shot despite spending nearly half his time on the ice playing with the man advantage.

The power play is built on communication. No surprise then that the unit misfired on the first night out, but it is a familiar problem for Leaf fans who remember last year’s dead last 17 per cent efficiency.

“It was not unlike our problem last year where we were hesitant to move pucks quickly,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson.  “We did three or four things wrong, but that’s stuff we will work on going forward.”

Singling out Kadri, of course, is patently unfair. None of the players in meaningful competition for a job, Brayden Irwin, Marcel Mueller, Jerry D’Amigo to name three, showed very much.

Dismayed by the performance,  some fans booed. Versteeg didn’t mind.

“You’ve got to give them something to cheer about and we didn’t," he said. We’re working on it.”

That’s the point after all.

“You never like to lose, but it is pre-season, it’s early,” said captain Dion Phaneuf. “It shows we’ve got lots of work to do.”

“Tomorrow night, we’ll have a completely different team,” Wilson said. “We’ll see how that goes.”

Notes: Christian Hanson had his first NHL fight Tuesday night, an easy decision over Senators’ defenceman Brian Lee, a  peacenik who had accrued only 49 NHL penalty minutes in 82 games. Hanson is, of course, the son of Dave Hanson who starred in a Slap Shot and stood out as one of the most highly decorated pugilists in the history of minor-league hockey.  While it was a night for which his father had long prepared him, Hanson figured his mother Sue would be on the phone first.  Wilson said he has noticed Hanson’s stepped-up aggressiveness. “Christian is playing with a lot more intensity than we saw consistently last year. He knows he’s in a mix. We’ve got to start season with four centres and we’ve got four or five guys battling for spots.” Hanson, who figures to be vying with Mike Brown, John Mitchell and Mikhail Grabovski for two spots, readily agrees. “You have to work on it one day at a time. You have to make sure it’s not just one good day at the rink. You’ve got to make sure you have five or six and you string together multiple ones. The same way you can get noticed for doing something well, you can get noticed for doing something poorly.”
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