The Toronto Maple Leafs handed the Buffalo Sabres their first loss of the preseason, winning 3-2 in a shootout tonight. The Leafs struggled for much of the game, falling behind 2-0, but they roared back in the third period on goals by Jamie Devane and Jay McClement to tie it up. The Leafs created several scoring chances in the overtime period as they enjoyed a 4-on-3 power play for much of it, with Mason Raymond coming the closest on a point blank effort that rang off the post and skipped across the crease. The game was ultimately decided in the skills contest, as McClement, the 30th shooter, finally potted home the winner. Here are a few notes from the interesting exhibition match:
No Ads On The Boards
The first thing I noticed at puck drop was the boards at First Niagara Center were completely devoid of advertisements, except for the small Reebok logos by both blue lines and the centre red line. I’m not sure why the boards were blank, but I enjoyed it. There’s something refreshing about watching a game of hockey without being constantly barraged by advertisements. I’m sure when the regular season starts the ads will be back, but for now, kudos to the Sabres for the nice gesture.
A Bad Night For New Rules
Two new rules the NHL is implementing league-wide for this season have received quite a bit of attention. The first one is players can no longer take their helmets off before fights. So far in the preseason, David Broll has been involved with two fights where he’s received the extra two-minute penalty for taking his helmet off. I understand what the NHL is doing in trying to limit head injuries, but judging by the players’ response, the rule isn’t working. On Thursday, Krys Barch and Brett Gallant even found a loophole in the rule and took each other’s helmets off before fighting. Maybe players will take the rule more seriously when the games actually start to mean something, but right now, nobody seems to care.
The other rule is the much-ballyhooed jersey tuck rule. Players are no longer allowed to tuck their jerseys into the back of their pants, because apparently that puts players at an injury risk, or something. About midway through the game, the Hockey Night In Canada broadcast crew noticed Jhonas Enroth’s jersey was in fact tucked into the back of his pants, but this drew no warning or penalty from the officials. Phil Kessel also played much of overtime with his jersey tucked. It’s a dumb rule to begin with, but what’s the point of introducing it if you’re not going to enforce it? It’s the preseason for the NHL’s head office too, apparently.
A Scrappy Affair
It may be the preseason, but it’s pretty clear these two teams have a lot of bad blood between them already. The game featured three fights and 56 penalty minutes between the two teams. Jamie Devane and Troy Bodie are trying to get themselves noticed, but their aggressiveness got the best of them on a couple of occasions. Twice, Devane took ill-advised penalties on Patrick Kaleta that gave the Sabres power play chances. Later on in the game, Bodie felt the need to drop the gloves with Kaleta after he and Dion Phaneuf got in a bit of a pushing match during play. He received a swift right cross in the face from Kaleta for his efforts. The play didn’t cost the Leafs as both players received fighting majors, but in that scenario, Kaleta is best left ignored. A veteran player probably would have realized that.
The other player that was driving many Leafs up the proverbial wall was Steve Ott. Ott started the game off with a dangerous slew-foot of Paul Ranger behind the Leafs’ net that he received a penalty for. Later, he decided to rough up Carter Ashton by the Sabres’ bench. To his credit, Ashton dropped the gloves with Ott and won the fight pretty handily. In the final moments of the third period, Phaneuf stood up Ott with a big hit at the Leafs’ blue line. In response, Ott took a slap shot directly at Phaneuf on a rush in overtime, which drew a scrum after the whistle. The two world-class agitators were in mid-season form in this one. Although I don’t respect how either of these guys play the game at times, the Leafs need to be smarter in how they react to them.
Colborne And Ashton Stand Out
I wrote in the game preview that this was likely going to be a big game for Joe Colborne and Carter Ashton as they’re both fighting for spots in the Leafs’ bottom six. Colborne showed off his willingness to play a gritty, physical game by forechecking hard, and also showed off his great speed. At 6-foot-5, that combination of speed and size can be dangerous. Ashton had an outstanding game. He forechecked, played sound positionally, had an assist on Jay McClement’s game-tying goal and even taught Ott a thing or two in a scrap in the first period. It’s still early, but I’d expect both these young players to make the Leafs’ opening night roster.