Franson solid in Leafs debut

Mike Brown slugs it out with Flames' Tom Kostopoulos on Saturday night at the ACC. Brown clearly...

Mike Brown slugs it out with Flames' Tom Kostopoulos on Saturday night at the ACC. Brown clearly won the scrap, but wisely avoided the post-fight theatrics that made headlines earlier in the week. (Dave Abel/QMI Agency)

Terry Koshan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:46 AM ET

After talking about it for much of the past week, Cody Franson did his part.

The Maple Leafs defenceman, none too happy about being a healthy scratch for the first two games of the regular season, fared just fine in his Toronto debut and assisted on the winning goal by Phil Kessel in a 3-2 Leafs win against the visiting Calgary Flames on Saturday night.

“I had a pretty decent game and I’m not going home tonight upset with myself,” Franson said. “I was happy with my effort. It was nice to finally get in there and get in the mix.”

Coach Ron Wilson didn’t like that Franson went public with his frustrations from being benched in favour of rookie Jake Gardiner. But Franson couldn’t be faulted for learning through secondary means that he was not going to play in the first two games and then that he was going to play against Calgary. A head coach might not necessarily relay such messages to his players, but an assistant should have let Franson know what was happening.

No matter, Franson did not make it easy for Wilson to simply re-insert Gardiner when the Colorado Avalanche arrive at the Air Canada Centre on Monday.

“I thought Cody played well,” Wilson said. “He moved the puck. I would like to see him shoot more because he has an honest-to-God cannon back there.”

One thing to remember about Franson — despite his 6-foot-5, 213-pound body, he is not an overly physical player. With the Nashville Predators last season, Franson was credited with 81 hits in 80 games, which is not a lot for a big defenceman.

In the first period, Franson stepped up to pinch along the boards and could have levelled Rene Bourque with a hit. Instead, Franson avoided checking the Flames forward.

Point shots

Kessel drew a large cheer from the Leafs scratches in the press box when he muscled past Flames defenceman Chris Butler to beat Miikka Kiprusoff for a beautiful goal in the second period. Kessel usually has not been able to physically outwork opponents, but he could smell blood as he sped past Butler. Kiprusoff didn’t see Kessel’s shot, which is not surprising, as it came from one of the quickest releases in the league ... For the second game in a row, captain Dion Phaneuf said Kessel was the Leafs’ best forward, at both ends of the rink. Hard to argue with that. Kessel is in better sharp than he was a year ago and has an extra gear ... How was it that former Leaf Lee Stempniak, never known to be a big-time mucker, manage to keep Nikolai Kulemin and John-Michael Liles at bay before eventually setting up the first Calgary goal? Not only did Stempniak then carry the puck around the net, he threaded a pass to Curtis Glencross, who tapped the puck behind James Reimer even though Kulemin and Liles were standing right there ... After he apologized to Chris Nilan, Stu Grimson and Jim Thomson on Coach’s Corner, Don Cherry said you have to “admit it when you’re wrong.” If Cherry truly acknowledged all of the times he was wrong about something, the apology would still be happening ... Puck possession is crucial, of course, but the Leafs took it to another extreme in the third period. David Steckel was 7-0 on faceoffs, while Tyler Bozak was 6-0. In all, Leafs centres won 23 of 29 faceoffs in the final 20 minutes ... Stempniak thought he had cleared the puck out of harm’s way on Kessel’s second goal, which came on a backhand at 41 seconds of the third period, but he swatted the puck away after it had crossed the goal line.

From the hash marks

Who needs Tim Connolly? Kessel, Bozak and Joffrey Lupul have been forming some solid chemistry through the first three games ... Even if Brian Burke received just Phaneuf in the blockbuster trade with the Flames on Jan. 31, 2010, Toronto would be considered the winner. Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman barely were noticeable ... Reimer had to be sharp to stop a backhand deke by Olli Jokinen in the second period. The play happened because of a perfect saucer pass from Glencross that eluded Mike Komisarek and landed right on Jokinen’s tape ... If Arron Asham is not the type of player to disrespect his opponents, then why did he do it to Washington’s Jay Beagle in the first place? After Mike Brown landed a pile of rights to the face of Tom Kostopoulos before sending the Flame to the ice in a fight, he skated directly to the penalty box. Brown is not the kind to call attention to himself with a dumb post-fight celebration ... The Leafs finally got to play after having six nights off between games for just the second time (excluding all-star and Olympic breaks) since 1956. The other time it happened was in October of 2009, and the Leafs lost the games before and after the break ... Reimer’s shutout string of 101 minutes 41 seconds, which ended in the third period last Saturday against Ottawa, was the third longest in Leafs history to start the season ... It’s great that Kessel has opened with five goals in three games. The challenge now is avoiding the long goal-less streaks that have been a part of his NHL career so far.

 


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