September 19, 2006
Plenty worth noting
By AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun
Even in Toronto, the opening game of the exhibition season doesn't warrant a column analyzing the differences between victory and defeat.
Instead, here are a few items that seemed noteworthy on the night hockey made its return.
- Maple Leafs fans are going to like Pavel Kubina. There will be the odd time when he'll cost the team a goal -- and maybe even a game -- by getting trapped. But last night he had no hesitation going deep into the zone to support the attack and when he chose to go into a defensive role, he didn't shy away from physical play. In fact, when Mark Mancari of the Buffalo Sabres bumped Leafs captain Mats Sundin, Kubina twice challenged him to drop the gloves but Mancari declined.
- It would seem that a few of the players took advantage of the new rule that allows an extra quarter-inch of curve on the stick blade. But the truth of the matter is that in recent years, almost every sniper in the league used an illegal stick in the first two periods. There were so many rules that needed attention, it's not clear why the league bothered with this one.
- For example? Well how about the one that allows goalies to freeze the puck almost at will? In the early stages last night, the Sabres sent a soft shot on goal from just inside the red line. Andrew Raycroft waited until an opponent came close, then fell on the puck. If the shot comes from outside the blue line, goalies should have to keep the puck in play.
- It's a good thing for some veterans that they're assured of their positions. If one of the kids had made as many errant passes as Bryan McCabe did last night, he probably would have earned himself a ticket to the Marlies. But that's the advantage of pre-season games. McCabe earned his spot years ago.
- The Sabres rode their power play into the playoffs last year and showed signs last night that they'll do it again this year. With forward Jason Pominville on the point and Derek Roy standing at the side of the net for the one-timer, the Sabres have a potent unit. Former Leaf Adam Mair set up Roy for a beauty last night to put the Sabres up 2-0. Even with the personnel moving around a bit, the power play was consistently dangerous.
- The players were out of sync in a number of ways and each time got called for having too many men on the ice. But let's not forget that this is pre-season for the officials, too. It's safe to say that the second one -- against the Leafs in the second period -- would not have been called in the playoffs.
- For any of the new Leafs who doubted Toronto's reputation as a tough market, the fact that the fans booed lustily with the season only two exhibition periods old should help erase any doubts.
- The game wasn't exactly brimming with action but the ice was awful. Then again, the MLSEL people only had five months to get it ready for their primary commodity.
- The Sabres have small numbers on the front of their new sweaters. It might not make much difference to fans, but it's a godsend to the guys who put together newspaper pages and often have to try to identify players when only the front of the sweater is visible in the photograph.
- The pre-season used to be the highlight of the year for fans who love fights. The game is now milder and gentler but even so, there was a spirited scrap between the Leafs' Ben Ondrus and Buffalo's Chris Thorburn. Later, fan favourite Darcy Tucker took on Mancari and came away bleeding. That not an uncommon result when Tucker fights, but it's not likely to stop him getting into another one.
- Leafs coach Paul Maurice has said that he intends to stress discipline this season. He has got a lot of work ahead of him. At one point, the Leafs took six consecutive penalties. Perhaps it's unfair to expect them to erase seven years of bad habits under Pat Quinn in one night, but they'll have to do better. It would be easy to write it off to the fact that it was the first pre-season game, but it was the Sabres' first game, too.