October 7, 2011
Steckel an instant draw
By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Some of them were for 20 seconds or less, but there wasn’t a forward on the ice in Thursday’s season opener that had more shifts than new Leafs centre David Steckel.
There were 28 of them, to be exact, many of them brief appearances for faceoffs in the Leafs end, many more when the Canadiens were on the power-play.
After just 36 hours in the Leafs room, coach Ron Wilson didn’t waste any time taking advantage of the big forward with the prowess at the dot.
And it played a huge role in starting the season off right.
“Every faceoff in our zone, as long as he wasn’t winded on the bench, I put him out there,” Wilson said after Steckel played a key detail role in the Leafs 2-0 win over the Habs. “It’s an advantage I haven’t had since I’ve been here — a go-to faceoff guy.”
Go-to Steckel was, winning 18 of 25 for a lofty 72% success rate. When the Leafs were struggling to find their feet and choke down their nerves in the first period, the faceoff ace won seven of eight.
“That’s what they put me out there to do — win draws,” said Steckel, who was deemed so dispensable by New Jersey that he was set free earlier this week for a fourth-round draft pick. “If I’m not winning them, I’m not useful.
“I was hoping I could fill in (the clutch) role. It’s kind of a tryout. Hopefully, Wilson liked what he saw.”
The 28 times he hopped over the boards answered that quite well.
A subtle shift to watch for as the season goes along: Once the Leafs got the 2-0 lead, the team went into a shutdown mode systematically on defence. Not quite a trap, perhaps, but not much going forward, either. “We weren’t looking for any offence after that 2-0 lead,” Wilson said. Other than some late sloppiness, it worked well ... Quietly effective night for Mike Komisarek, who made up for some of the nerves rookie partner Jake Gardiner displayed in the first period. Komisarek logged 13:53 and led all players with six hits ... The Leafs were among the league leaders in blocked shots last season and laid it on the line again in the opener, getting in front of 20 pucks in total. “It was very noticeable, especially from our forwards,” Komisarek said. “Guys were sacrificing their body and back-checking hard.” ... No goals for Phil Kessel in this one, but he did push his consecutive points streak to 11 games with an assist on Dion Phaneuf’s big insurance goal in the third. He showed off one of the more underrated sides of his game as well with a perfectly placed pass for the captain to tee off on the key insurance goal 4:42 into the third ... Big night for captain Phaneuf with a plus-2 rating thanks to a goal and an assist. You could tell he really wanted to bag that empty netter in the final minute, as well.
No doubt the young Leafs were nervous early, leading to the six recorded giveaways in the first. “We were a little anxious with it being opening night, no doubt, but we didn’t panic,” Phaneuf said. “(Reimer) kept us in there and we settled down and came out an deployed our game in the second.” ... No need to remind Matthew Lombardi of the previous time he scored a goal. “I remember them all, there haven’t been that many,” said Lombardi whose short-handed game-winner was a huge welcome-back moment to the NHL. For those that don’t, it was when he was with the Coyotes and came against Detroit in the opening round of the 2010 playoffs ... Lost in the sluggishness of the game was the Leafs ability to shut down Mike Cammalleri and Thomas Plekanec ... Cool, classy scene at centre ice in the pre-game warmup. Lined up beside each other at centre ice, Habs star Carey Price gave Reimer a friendly tap on the pads minutes before his first game as Leafs starter and a huge shutout win to start it off right ... Nazem Kadri wasn’t hoping to celebrate his 21st birthday in street clothes, but he was at the ACC for the win. “What a start for the boys,” Kadri tweeted. “PS. Thanks for all the birthday wishes.” ... There is no official record for turnovers in a period but the Leafs seemed to be gunning for it early in the first ... Nothing wrong with going to the net, but a pair of goalie interference penalties (one to Tyler Bozak, the other to Colby Armstrong) weren’t in the plan ... We’ll call it a draw on Leafs special teams. The power-play was 0-for-4 and not particularly threatening while the penalty-kill was a perfect 0-for-5 against the speedy Habs. The key? Back to Steckel. “Win a faceoff and you shoot the puck down the ice and it’s 25-30 seconds off the power play,” Wilson said. “He managed to do that a couple of times. It’s huge.”