Round 1 of the battle of Ontario and it seems the Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t missed a beat. Securing their opening night victory against the Montreal Canadiens, the Leafs welcomed the Ottawa Senators to the ACC in a game dominated by the home team. Looking to over-shadow last seasons horrific start, the Leafs showed relentless puck pursuit from the opening face-off and never looked back in achieving the 5-1 win.
Visible throughout tonights contest was the structure within the Leafs line-up. With a job in mind the Leafs third line, a line sent over the boards to defend and control seemed to take advantage of a lagging Senators team, playing their second game in as many nights. Securing a spot as somewhat of an unknown, Tim Brent continues to make a name for himself, centering the Leafs third line. Chipping in for his second goal of the season, Brent spoke of his play so far.
It’s nice to chip in,” said Brent, who waited an agonizing five minutes as the NHL’s Toronto war room looked for video confirmation that Sens’ goalie Pascal Leclaire pulled the puck from behind the red line. “We have to continue to do our job in our own end. Colby (Armstrong) and (Fredrik) Sjostrom are so good protecting the puck that we’ll get our fair share of chances.”
It would be hard to consider the game a battle without some fist-a-cuffs, and with the Leafs exploding to 5-0 lead the tension boiled over. The rough stuff began with the Leafs new “deputy sheriff” Mike Brown and Senators forward Chris Neil kicking off the under-card to a heavyweight battle between Colton Orr and Senators Matt Carkner. Hard to mention Kris Versteeg within the scrappiness but the Leafs forward will have a game to remember in his first goal as a Leaf, while finishing the night with a “Gordie Howe Hat-Trick” registering a goal, assist and a fight with Senators forward Mike Fisher. When asked about his presence within the Leafs locker room, Versteeg spoke of the change in mentality.
“Everyone said when I was coming here that I was coming to a 29th place team. But it’s not the 2009-10 season again. It’s a new season, we’re here to prove that.”
A night where everything seemed to click is a perfect explanation of the Leafs performance. J.S. Giguere although barely needed in the game was solid, and the lone goal scored on him was that of a fluke as he and the entire Leaf team were convinced the play was to be whistled dead for an icing. A knack against them to start the season, the Leafs continue to put up some scoring. With sniper Phil Kessel as the big threat, it was secondary players also providing the jump with efforts from Clarke MacArthur, Nikolai Kulemin and Mikahail Grabovski. Offence coming from all lines is an added bonus, and one that Head Coach Ron Wilson spoke of after the game.
“It’s not how it’s designed. We want offence from our first two lines, defence from our third and belligerence and defence from our fourth. Any time the third can score it’s a bonus. We never really veered away from the things we talked about in our zone. We wanted to put their defencemen under pressure all night. (Ottawa) played last night (losing a 2-1 home opener to Buffalo) and we wanted to come out quick and hard and jump their D. But for that to work, our forwards have to work hard to get to positions where they’re open. I like to say it’s keeping five guys in the picture all the time, if you’re thinking of an old TV screen where the zone is only half-size. Our forwards and our defence moved the puck as best I’ve seen them. This is the result.”
The win and most of all the consistency in which they played their game is attributed to the new attitude buzzing around this Leafs team. Acknowledging the disappointment regarding last year’s success or lack there of, the players insist this is a totally different team with a new approach. That approach must be cushioned and encouraged by leadership, a quality strongly provided by new Captain Dion Phaneuf.
“Dion keeps everybody upbeat all the time,” said winger Freddie Sjostrom, who came to the Leafs along with Phaneuf last winter in the blockbuster deal with Calgary. “He doesn’t let anybody go to sleep. He’s encouraging, a very positive guy. He’s a perfect captain.”
The Leafs will need to keep the pace and positive vibe throughout as they have a few days rest, not back in game action until Wednesday as they head to the new Consol Energy Center for a date with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Dropping the first two games so far, the Penguins will be a hungry team lead by Sidney Crosby and provide a good test for this Leaf team. A good effort and outcome against one of the league’s elite will stretch the confidence of this group, a confidence that will provide a strut in order to keep pace within the Eastern Conference.
Happy Thanksgiving to all!!
About the Author
Written by RJ Emptage
Operations Manager of a retail chain in Southern Ontario (Sports Obsession). Specialize in licensed sports apparel and novelties (Visit sportsobsession.ca). Being from the Hamilton area I grew up and into a die-hard Toronto Maple Leaf Fan, and look forward to a bright blue and white future...(I know that sounds crazy doesn't it?) Love all things sports and the next best thing to playing them, is talking them!