TORONTO – Special teams have been a weak spot for the Maple Leaf in recent seasons to say the least. Last year, the Leafs were 22nd overall on the power play (16%) and 28th on the penalty kill (77.74%).
So you have to figure that Leafs coach Ron Wilson hates the 2011 pre-season schedule. With a two-day training camp featuring 70 players, followed by eight pre-season games in 13 days, with probably a day or two off for the players, Wilson is not getting a lot of time to work on his special teams.
Saturday night at the First Niagara Center, in the 3-2 Buffalo win, the Sabres went 3-for-4 on the power play and the Leafs went 0-for-2. On Friday night at the Air Canada Centre against the Sabres, the Leafs were 0-3 with the extra man.
MORE JAKE HYPE
Everyone is talking about rookie defenceman Jake Gardiner, who looks more and more like the real deal. At one point in the second period on Saturday night against the Buffalo Sabres, Gardiner jumped into the play in the Sabres zone and then, after the Leafs turned the puck over, managed to catch Buffalo forward Brad Boyes while Boyes was still moving through in the neutral zone. During a first intermission interview on HNIC, Brian Burke hinted that Gardiner may start the season with the Marlies, because the Leafs GM is a big believer in young players developing in the AHL. However, if Gardiner keeps playing the way he has, and sticks with the Leafs, who would the Leafs send to the Marlies? Carl Gunnarsson has played well in the pre-season and the Leafs seem to love Cody Franson. Mike Komisarek? He hasn’t looked great, but apparently he has a no movement clause in his contract.
On the other hand, Gardiner could be this season’s Alexei Kudashov.
Kudashov, if you remember (and I’m sure you don’t) made a big splash when he showed up as a rookie at the Leafs training camp in 1993. He was instantly dubbed by some in the media as the Russian Sensation.” He ended up playing 25 games for the Leafs and scored one goal.
You never know.
During an interview with Elliotte Friedman, Gardiner described himself as a “pretty good skater.” His modesty is only matched by his skating dexterity.
Watching NHL hockey now, it’s like the players are playing in a phone booth. There’s hardly any room. Don’t know why so many people feel that’s a good thing. Add that to the fact that players are never out of position anymore and you’ve got basically 60 minutes of battling for bouncing pucks along the boards ... During Leafs TV pregame show, a Filipino “friend”, while perusing the Leafs program, made the observation that “LeeLee” has been a good player so far during the pre-season. Think she meant Liles ... Ron MacLean opened up Hockey Night in Canada show from a boat. No sign of his sidekick Admiral Blowhard (and I say that affectionately) ... HNIC analyst Glenn Healy says that Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin are in competition for a spot on the third line. Frattin had a good game on Saturday, but Kadri has been terrific for most of the pre-season ...Watching 6-foot-5 Leafs defenceman Keith Aulie smack 5-foot-5 Nathan Gerbe in the first period in Buffalo was reminiscent of a heavyweight boxer playing around with the speed bag ... Same Filipino “friend” asked what the Kitchener/Waterloo Oktoberfest was, following a commercial for such. Explained that it was a festival involving Germans and beer. She looked terrified ... HNIC play-by-play guy Jim Hughson pointed out that Leafs rookie Joe Colborne ate six times a day during the off-season. Is that a lot? ... Hughson also said the Sabres “were smelling blood” after going up 2-1 in the second. More likely it was the Niagara River ... Jonas Gustavsson gave up three goals, but played well ... Interesting stat. Toronto lost 3-2, but not a single Leaf was a minus after the game. All three Buffalo goals came on the power play.