At first glance, you'd have thought Cliff Fletcher was a masochist for approving an exhibition schedule that pits his Maple Leafs against the two Stanley Cup finalists four times during this exhibition season.
But the general manager was ecstatic that Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin faced his team on Wednesday, that Sidney Crosby was in the lineup last night and that the champion Detroit Red Wings likely would dress numerous veterans for home-and-home games next week. Fletcher planned to put as many kids and Marlies as he could into the firing line before his own roster gets pared for opening night, Oct. 9.
"It's what you want," Fletcher said yesterday. "You want kids such as Luke Schenn to experience playing against Crosby now. The tougher the opposition in pre-season, the better it is for us moving forward."
Added coach Ron Wilson: "It's good that Chris DiDomenico and a (forward) such as Jaime Sifers will see a player of (Crosby's) magnitude. I'd want to be challenged by someone like that.
"If Luke gets beat one-on-one by Crosby, he'll be right back the next game. It's not like a test, but they may still pass it. Who knows? You'd be shocked by how good some of our young guys are."
The Leafs split their dressing room yesterday into a defined parent team and farm club. They moved 32 players into the main quarters at the Air Canada Centre, with Marlies coach Greg Gilbert taking the other group at Ricoh Coliseum.
Minor-league goalie Justin Pogge and forwards Robbie Earl, Jeremy Williams, John Mitchell and Sifers remain with the Leafs for now.