The Toronto Maple Leafs team may look better on paper, but it didn’t quite come out on the ice. Last night, Ottawa pummelled Toronto in a 5-0 pre-season game, without the benefit of their big names on the roster. No problem, though: the up and coming guys got the job done and prove that there’s reason for the Ottawa faithful to look forward to better times- they’re just not fully here yet.
There’s a lot of promise on the Ottawa secondary bench. The next generation of players with Corey Locke and Jared Cowen are looking good and Robin Lehner is the goaltender of the future. There’s no doubt that he will be solid in between the pipes one day. True, he did have some juicy rebounds and wasn’t quick to jump on top of the puck, but he had some great saves and with a little more training and patience, he’s going to be a starter. It also needs to be considered that this is the pre-season, so it’s really just an occasion to stretch the players’ legs and get the fans appetite going. Once Lehner plays for stakes, I’m sure he’ll bring his A game.
There’s no need to whet the appetites of the Toronto fans. The Maple Leaf diehards were out in good form, even though their team didn’t give them much to cheer about. It was surely a historic moment for them to see Dion Phaneuf take the ice as their Captain for the first time; a substantial weight to carry on one’s shoulders, for sure, but luckily, his are broad. Fans were also pleased to see Nazim Khadri, who impressed many during the World Juniors for Canada.
It was a shakey start for the team, but what did one expect for a team that finished 29 and 30 in the league for power play, penalty kills and goals against average? Nothing was going to get fixed overnight. The Senators, on the other hand, didn’t have much trouble getting their chemistry going and the veteran players (Neil, Kelly, Foligno) are all looking sharp. Jesse Winchester also had some solid play and was not to be ignored on the ice.
There were good chances for both teams throughout, but a lot of really clumsy mistakes, sure signs that it’s been a long summer for the players as well. Silly penalties resulted from some pretty sloppy play and some of them were embarassingly obvious, like multiple hooks by Shannon and tripping by Campoli.
Maintaining discipline and focus is going to be top of mind for both coaches this season. The Senators gave up no less than 8 power plays to the Leafs and the Leafs, in turn, failed to capitalize by ignoring the gaps in the blue line and making a bum’s rush for the net. The Senators did a good job of clogging the zone, making Lehner’s job relatively easy for the first period; the second period did not go over so well, with the Leafs stacking up chances, but failing to get a goal.
The high point for the Leafs and a gaping gap for Ottawa? Toughness. Toronto did one thing right the other night and that was fight. Three scraps resulted in pretty lacklustre efforts from Ottawa, exposing the obvious lack of goon power on the squad this year. The absence of Sutton and Volchenkov was obvious and it’s not going to be long before the team feels it during the season. The fisticuffs were mild for a pre-season bout when there are no points to be had; imagine what they’ll be like when there’s something on the line.
What is on the line for some of these young players is a chance at the team. Corey Locke seems to be a lock; Jared Cowen would bring a much-needed big body presence to our defense and Jesse Winchester probably won himself some additional ice time with his solid play. Nick Foligno has shown that he’s still dependable and both Kelly and Neil came through with goals.
All in all, a solid pre-season performance from Ottawa and a possible sign of things to come for Toronto if they can’t get their act together.
About the Author
Written by Mika Oehling
Office worker and sports nerd. Cannot play a professional sport to save my life, but love to write. Prone to rants, raves, snarky humour and caustic commentary. My team's the Ottawa Senators. Author of Armchair Hockey, a work of humourous fiction released this year and available for sale online at Chapters and Amazon.