Leafs a work in progress

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

PITTSBURGH -- We're thinking Ron Wilson knows the difference between an apple and an orange, so safe to say he wasn't expecting the Maple Leafs to dominate a superior opponent last night.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Leafs were NHL opposites at the Mellon Arena and for more than just the obvious.

One was coming off a season that took them to the Stanley Cup final. The other, a squad that wasn't within shouting distance of the playoffs.

One has trimmed its roster down to regular-season size in advance of a trip to Europe. The other still had a handful of future Marlies in the lineup.

So a 3-2 loss to the Conference champs was somewhat predictable. After falling in a 3-0 hole, the Leafs had a better effort in the third period to make a game out of it, but the result was hardly the point.

As he moves forward through training camp, Wilson will have gained as much from this as he did a 7-4 win over a mixed bag of Buffalo Sabres prospects a couple of nights prior.

"We're only four practices and one exhibition under our belt so it's awful hard to say what we are," Wilson said prior to the game. "I'm just trying to figure out what the players are grasping and what we need to practice."

For example, Wilson went into the game hoping to find chemistry between young centre Mikhail Grabovski and wingers Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponikarovsky.

When that didn't work, he replaced Ponikarovsky with Nikolai Kulemin, which was more of a force in the third and led to Grabovski's first goal as a Leaf, with 11 seconds remaining. The other Leafs goal came a little under five minutes earlier when Ponikarovsky got the shaft of his stick on a bullet shot by Josef Boumedienne.

"I was hoping there would be chemistry (between the first three) and there obviously wasn't," Wilson said. "But that's what the pre-season is for."

As much as the Leafs were outplayed early, they also fell victim to rotten bounces, including a pair of own goals in the first period. One went in off the skate of Anton Stralman, the other off Boumedienne.

Justin Pogge, who played the entire game net, had no chance on the third goal, either. Stralman slipped and was stripped of the puck by Pens sniper Evgeni Malkin, who worked a give-and-go with Jordan Staal for an easy two-on-nothing score.

"Two of the goals we kicked in the own net, the other both of our "D" slipped and fell so it was a bit of bad luck," Wilson said. "Defensively we played pretty well but we were hesitant to go on the attack until the third period.

"I got an indication of what we need to work on in practice, so we'll go from there."

Which was the point of the exercise on a hectic day for the Leafs, who flew in late in the afternoon, following a morning skate in Toronto.

Wilson wanted a serious look at top draft pick, Luke Schenn, who he paired with his best defenceman, Tomas Kaberle, on the opening shift and throughout, including penalty-killing situations.

While Schenn seemed to have trouble adjusting to the speed at times, he didn't embarrass himself, either.

"Obviously it's a lot faster than what I'm used to playing in junior hockey," Schenn said. "That and puck movement is the main thing."

Even if Schenn is headed back to junior before long, Wilson wanted to take a look at both the rookie and his veteran partner for the night.

"I put Luke with a guy like Kaberle to see if Kabby has got the leadership qualities to play with a young guy and help him out," Wilson said. "And part of it is to see if there's chemistry there for the future."

The new coach in town has made it clear he won't read too much into any pre-season contest, especially one less than a week into training camp. But it was games like this one that will give the teacher in him plenty of new material.


Videos

Photos