Look, preseason games aren’t about the score. In fact, the score is the one thing no one cares to remember.
What people do recall is witnessing the puzzle piece being fitted into the holes.
While the veterans round themselves nicely into readiness, it falls to the rookies, the up and co
mers and the long shots to sort things out. Leaf coach Ron Wilson, like many, insists he doesn’t cut players…players cut players.
So who looked good and who looked bad in the Leafs’ 3-2 loss to the Boston Bruins?
Start with Tyler Bozak
. Projected by some as a solid second-line NHL centre, Bozak was the game’s best player in the first period. He used his above average speed to power to the net and draw a penalty early in the period. With 6:22 left in the first, Bozak danced through two Boston defenders and roofed a shorthanded shot past Bruin netminder Dany Sabourin.
The line of Bozak, Viktor Stalberg and Christian Hanson was the best unit on the ice and they remain a tantalizing bit of possibility. Wilson liked what he saw of them in training camp and plans to play the unit several times as the Leafs play in London on Thursday and Friday in Pittsburgh before returning home to play Philadelphia on Saturday. Bozak was a regular on the penalty kill.
The three even live together and their natural chemistry is largely the result of all three playing NCAA hockey.
“I’m just trying to take it the best that I can,” Bozak said after the game. “Definitely, I’m shocked and really excited. I’m just trying to keep it composed and not get too antsy.”
There were, of course, the mandatory fights. Jay Rosehill
tangled twice but plenty of legal hitting including some nice work from Garnet Exelby and Colton Orr.
Not to forget Vesa Toskala. Toskala played only 53 games last season because of groin and hip injuries that necessitated hip and groin surgery. He faced 15 shots and stopped all but one.
“I felt good today,” he said. “It would have been nice to have some tougher shots. I was pretty good, my body feels good and that’s the number one thing. That was a good start.”Second period:
Veteran Steve Begin ended any thoughts of a perfect night for Toskala when he finds a loose puck on a penalty and slides it past Toskala. Phil Oreskovic and Jeff Finger
went to play the body on the same puckcarrier and the puck squirted to Begin who broke in unfettered.Nazem Kadri
is easily erased by the Bruins Michael Ryder. Kadri is listed at six-feet and 192 pounds. This may not bode well when he tangles with 200-pound defencemen. Kadri is probably about 175 pounds and there is no hiding the need for him to bulk up. All that said, Kadri handled the puck confidently and seemed able to keep out of the areas where he could be filled in.
“You can see the sparks of greatness,” said Wilson. “He’s not afraid, he plays chippy, but I think he found out that these are big strong guys. You have to get a little stronger.”
Stalberg, as he has all night, goes hard to the net and elicits an enthusiastic response from Bruin defenceman Mark Stuart.
Joey MacDonald, well known to Leaf fans for his inability to stop Jason Blake’s shootout spinerama last season, takes over for Toskala at the game’s halfway point.
Phil Oreskovic’s aggressiveness gains him an interference penalty. Patrice Bergeron’s terrific pass finds Brad Marchand who whips it past MacDonald. Great goal but one the Leafs’ penalty killing unit (Finger, Hanson, Francois Beauchemin, and Stalberg) can’t let happen or at least can’t let happen that easily.
Oreskovic fights Guillaume Lefebvre. Is there any point here? I know Oreskovic is giving it his best shot to be one of the first blue line callups when a Leaf defenceman is hurt, but does he really need to prove that he can fight? The question is can he play not can he fight.
Allison flashes some veteran savvy when he draws a defenceman and feeds Jiri Tlusty. The veteran free agent is of course, legendarily slow but you sure notice him when the puck is on his stick.
“Ali looked like he pooped out in the second half of the game,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson. “He will be a project going forward. He won’t leave here saying he wasn’t given a fair chance.”
The Bruins take a bench minor and Stalberg slides the puck past the Boston goalie from a seemingly impossible angle. Guy looks like a player.
Ask GM Brian Burke about him, and he starts with Stalberg’s willingness to play in traffic. Given that both Leafs goals have come from the Bozak-Hanson-Stalberg line, you can expect to see a lot more of the trio. Stalberg then fritters away a nice scoring chance with an ill-advised pass. Still work to be done but Stalberg’s six shots was twice as good as anyone else.
“I kept throwing pucks at the net all night and luckily one goes in,” he says. “You can’t score if you don’t shoot enough.”Third Period:
Andre Deveaux tussles. It is the club’s fourth fight. Get used to it.
The Leafs go on the power play. Bozak plays the left point.
Former Leaf Andy Wozniewski cruises into the slot and scores. Nice guy, good on him.
If one night indicates anything, there has been a huge clawback in the interference calls in front of the crease. Woz demonstrates to Allison what a week in a Turkish prison would feel like and gets no call.
Wave starts with seven minutes left. Nice.
Oreskovic fights Adam McQuaid. That would be five which I believe is the over/ under.
The Leafs lose 3-2 but it looks good. They are long on try, their young line was the best unit on the ice and Toskala’s return went smoothly. Toss in the five fights and everybody went home happy.