The Maple Leafs aren't expected to do much this season, other than lose a lot of low-scoring games and send head coach Ron Wilson running for the Rolaids on a regular basis.
But if the first three pre-season contests are any indication, this year's version of the blue and white may be a little more explosive than first thought, though the Leafs blew a third period lead last night to the defending Stanley Cup finalists Pittsburgh Penguins, dropping the pre-season contest 5-4. Wilson was not impressed with the fact that his team blew a third period lead -- one of the weaknesses of this club last year.
"It's a mentality that I'm going to have to crack here, when we have that one-goal lead in the third period, sitting back and waiting for something bad to happen," he said. "But all the mistakes are correctable."
The Leafs now have 13 goals in three games. This is a team that has only two 20-goal scorers from last year's NHL campaign, but has generated a surprising amount of offence thus far in the exhibition campaign. Last night, in front of 18,884 at the Air Canada Centre, the home side fired 40 shots at Pittsburgh goaltenders Dany Sabourin and Marc-Andre Fleury.
"The one thing I love watching is how our D moves the puck, we have a couple of the best offensive defencemen in the game, which enhances the guys up front," Wilson said of Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina.
Unfortunately for the home supporters, the Penguins had even more weapons, even without superstar forward Evgeni Malkin in the lineup. But head coach Michel Therrien did dress Sidney Crosby, who picked up a goal and an assist while teammate Ruslan Fedontenko had three assists. Crosby was, however, limping somewhat after the game, but insisted that it is not serious.
"It was just a groin tweak," he said. "Everything was good. No worries."
Matt Cooke scored with under two minutes left to cap the comeback for the Penguins, who departed for Europe immediately after the game.
The Penguins play against Helsinki side Jokerit in pre-season action on Thursday and open the regular season in Stockholm, Sweden, against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.
Still, Wilson was more content than bitter with his club's performance, last night and throughout camp. There does seem to be some positive vibes around the club this season, further demonstrated last night by the fact that chronically injured defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo left the ice in the second period -- and actually returned to the game. No injured list, no surgery, no crutches. After a few minutes of jumping up and down at the bench, Colaiacovo, who has averaged only 31 games per season in the past three winters for the Leafs because of various injuries, returned to the ice.
Rookie defencemen Luke Schenn picked up his first goal in the pre-season on a snap shot from the point in the second period and made a nice defensive move on Crosby.
"It has been good so far, I'm really enjoying myself and I just want to keep progressing," Schenn said. "You love being put in key situations and being out there in the last few minutes of the game.."
Crosby blew past the Leafs defence for his goal in the third period to tie it at 3-3, before Kaberle put the Leafs ahead.
Kris Letang then tied it again, 4-4, with less than four minutes left.
The Leafs played rookie forward Christopher DiDomenico yesterday between veterans Ryan Hollweg and Jamal Mayers and then planned to ship him off to his junior team, the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major League today. The Woodbridge native was the best player for the Leafs at the NHL rookie camp in Kitchener and played well enough in camp to earn a spot in last night's lineup. Last year, DiDomenico had 39 goals and 95 points and could play for Canada at the world junior championship.
The Leafs assigned 13 players to the Marlies yesterday, including forwards Brent Aubin, Darryl Boyce, Stefano Giliati, Kyle Rogers, Dan Rudisuela, Greg Scott, Tim Stapleton; defencemen Scott Langdon, Phil Oreskovic, Juha Uotila and goaltenders Adam Munro, Michael Ouzas and James Reimer.
FINN FINALLY FLIES
The Leafs' No.1 goaltender Vesa Toskala started for the first time in the pre-season last night and head coach Ron Wilson said he will start the Finn in three of the remaining six exhibition contests. Justin Pogge, who played in 41 games for the Marlies last season, will start in Buffalo tonight and veteran Curtis Joseph, who will backup Toskala this season, will get the nod on Monday against St. Louis at the ACC.