All that the Leaf fan in me remembers from October last season is a sick feeling in my gut that I kept wishing would go away as soon as I woke up from the 0-7-1 nightmare that began the ’09-10 campaign. This time around, the Leafs’ drastically different start has me wondering if it’s all too good to be true.
Going into last night’s contest, I was feeling good about the Leafs, figuring the perennial playoff-contending Penguins would provide a good test for the upstart Buds, and perhaps show a few chinks in the armor that hadn’t been brought to the light just yet. Instead, the Leafs came out flying in the first, out-shooting the ‘Guins 6-0 through the first half of the period and taking a 1-0 lead for the 3rd straight game (as bad as the Leafs were in that respect last year, apparently last night was the 6th straight time they’ve scored first when playing the Penguins in Pitt). While a favorable momentum shift for the Pens came in the form of a four minute powerplay late in the first and changed the complexion of the game, the Leafs never folded. Clarke MacArthur netted two goals and Francois Beauchemin scored his first of the year to give the Buds all the offense they’d need. An interesting note: after scoring 1 goal on 7 shots in the first period, the Leafs netted 3 of the 7 shots they had over the last 40 minutes.
Luke Schenn’s double minor in the first was more of an incidental contact than anything else, and when Chris Kunitz tipped in a point blast from Evgeni Malkin through Jonas Gustavsson on Pittsburgh’s first shot of the night, I got a bit of that “here-we-go-again.” That bit got bigger when Max Talbot stuffed one through the Monster to cut his save percentage from .500 to .333 near the end of the first, but Gussy locked it down over the last two periods to finish with 22 saves and was named Player of the Game by the Pittsburgh TV station broadcasting the game.
The only other goal Gustavsson gave up was off a pretty play by Sidney Crosby, who barreled to the net after making a cross-ice, faked like he was going to deflect a point shot to freeze Jonas and instead, corralled the puck and knifed a quick backhand into the empty cage. Malkin had a golden opportunity to change the course of the game with a penalty shot in the 2nd, but missed the net.
A couple of things to take from this one:
- Of course, the day I go shooting my mouth off about Colton Orr, the big dummy gets planted on his ass by youngster Deryk Engelland. Orr was held out of the rest of the game, but is reported to be fine. Thanks for making me look so good, buddy. In all honesty, I was impressed with Engelland, if only for the fact that he just wouldn’t go down. Orr dropped more than a few bombs throughout the fight and didn’t take really any damage until getting smacked in the kisser with the final blow. Oh, by the way, in two minutes of ice time, Orr went +2 with a goal and five penalty minutes.
- Don’t look now, but the $1.1 million dollar man, Clarke MacArthur is currently tied atop the NHL leaderboard for goals with none other than Alex Ovechkin. Oh yeah, Ovi’s played one more game too.
- Care to venture a guess as to how many shots the Leafs blocked last night? Kris Versteeg led the club with 4, while even Mikhail Grabovski had 1 – Team total was 20 on the game. The biggest reason for that is a new defensive mindset: literally every time the puck was turned over in their own end (which still happens too often for my liking), at least four Toronto players collapsed to the “house” or danger zone in front of the net. Can’t remember seeing team defense like this at any point last year, and the effectiveness is even more evident on the PK.
- Speaking of the devil, I knew I jinxed it yesterday when I mentioned the Leafs were a perfect 100% killing penalties this year. Still, I can live with giving up a tip-in goal, through traffic, in the final 90 seconds of a four minute powerplay that the Leafs had killed without allowing a shot on net.
- Oh yea, and the team that finished last season with a -53 goal differential now leads the league at +6 through three games.
I know it’s only three games, but c’mon, after last year I think we all deserve a little hope and excitement. Next on the Leafs’ schedule is a Friday-night matchup with the New York Rangers.
Topics: Alex Ovechkin, Chris Kunitz, Clarke MacArthur, Colton Orr, Deryk Engelland, Evgeni Malkin, Francois Beauchemin, Jonas Gustavsson, Kris Versteeg, Luke Schenn, Max Talbot, Mikhail Grabovski, Pittsburgh Penguins, Sidney Crosby, Toronto Maple Leafs