November 6th, 2009. Does the date ring a bell?
More than likely it doesn’t — unless you are a pretty hard core Leaf fan — in which case you’ll quickly remember (yeah right) that this was the date the Leafs won their second game of the year last season.
Earlier tonight, Toronto recorded their second win of the 2010-11 season — almost a month earlier than last year.
The positive start to the season has given Leaf fans a reason to be optimistic, and given how they won this one, many might be busy mapping out the parade route. Tonight it was a solid thrashing of provincial rival Ottawa — a playoff team a year ago.Now, let’s keep things in perspective here — it’s only two games. However, two wins over divisional rivals was the perfect start for this team — every point will matter come April.
Toronto played well but the Senators looked seriously disinterested throughout the contest, outshot by the Leafs 38-18. Goalie Pascal Leclaire saved them from further embarrassment by making some sensational saves.
J.S. Giguere by all means should have posted the shutout. Ottawa’s only goal came late in third when a sure icing call failed to materialize when the puck bounced over the stick of Clarke MacArthur. After everyone eased up momentarily, an alert Daniel Alfredsson fed it to Jason Spezza who buried it past a surprised Giguere.
Before that, it was all Leafs on the scoreboard. Afterwards, a few scraps broke out — hardly an uncommon occurrence in a lopsided contest such as this. In case you were wondering, yes, Colton Orr and Matt Carkner squared off (for the 5th time since the start of last season) and yes, Orr took the decision yet again (4-1).
Phil Kessel netted his 2nd goal in as many games for Toronto and was dangerous again all night with the puck. MacArthur and Tim Brent also scored their second goals of the season as the Leafs were again able to get some secondary scoring from unlikely sources — a good sign. Nikolai Kulemin and Kris Versteeg also scored.
The Leafs played an impressive, simple game with each player and line clearly aware of their role. The Toronto Star’s Damien Cox observed this as well and nicely broke it down as follows:
This season, partly because of the decision to keep Tim Brent and Mike Zigomanis as the third- and fourth-line centres, it’s pretty darn clear what every forward unit is supposed to accomplish when it steps on the ice. Tyler Bozak’s unit with Kessel and Kris Versteeg is the top offensive line. Nik Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur are supposed to fill that void on nights when the Bozak line struggles or is closely checked, and that’s exactly what happened last night.
The third line of Brent, Colby Armstrong and Freddie Sjostrom is assigned the role of getting the puck in deep and executing a purposeful forecheck. Already, Armstrong’s competence along the boards in both ends gives the Leafs something they simply did not have a year ago.
The fourth line of Orr, Mike Brown and Zigomanis, finally, is supposed to do what the third line does, with more of a menacing feel, then get the hell off the ice. Zigomanis is so happy to be here you never have to worry that he’ll squawk about ice time, and ditto for Brown, brought in knowing exactly what his role would be.
Now, let’s keep things in perspective here — it’s only two games. However, two wins over divisional rivals was the perfect start for this team — every point will matter come April.
It turned out to be an enjoyable night sitting around the tube watching the events unfold on Hockey Night in Canada with my extended family on Thanksgiving weekend. Trust me, there weren’t too many of them last year.
Right now there is hope. Hope that this team will be better and hope that we’ll be provided with many more satisfying Saturday nights.