The last game against the Detroit Red Wings was one of the greatest snooze fests of our generation. It was legitimately a struggle to sit through it, and that’s not because the Leafs were shut out – it was just really boring. Tonight, we saw the opposite. With players looking to make strong final impressions, the Leafs overwhelmed their opponents, taking home a commanding 5-1 win to end the preseason.
Toronto took an early lead in this one. After escaping the offensive zone, the Leafs made a very strong re-entry, thanks to a stretch pass from Roman Polak to Brandon Kozun. The ensuing drop pass put the puck on Jake Gardiner’s stick, and he blasted it bast Jonas Gustavsson to kick things off. Detroit came back seven minutes later to take advantage of a mess in front of Jonathan Bernier, but before the period could end, Brandon Kozun scored a goal that we’ll talk about a bit later.
Dion Phaneuf showed us early in the second period that he still has an absolute cannon of a slapshot, turning a pass from Mike Santorelli into a puck with a vapour trail to give the Leafs a 3-1 lead. Midway through, on their second powerplay of the game, the Leafs widened the gap to 4-1, with a Morgan Rielly shot that hit James van Riemsdyk in… a sensitive area, and trickled into the net.
A minute into the third period, Phaneuf sealed the deal, with a nifty move and a wrister following a takeaway by Brandon Kozun. The Leafs continued to press until the final buzzer, outshooting Detroit 15-7 in the third period and 36 to 21 overall.
If there was any doubt that Brandon Kozun would end up making this team, it’s been eradicated tonight. He had a couple of nice feeds to Gardiner and Phaneuf, and his goal was arguably the nicest one we’ve seen this entire preseason.
- Stephane Robidas and Dion Phaneuf looked really good together. I know that one game is a very small sample, and that the Red Wings were definitely the weaker team tonight, but if this is any indication of how they might be together, Dion may finally have his partner. Phaneuf seemed freer to take offensive chances and get involved with the play, and his two (almost three!) goals reflect that. Robidas was always in a logical place, something that Phaneuf’s partners haven’t been particularly good at over the years.
- I particularly liked how Robidas was controlling the penalty kill while Phaneuf was in the box, chatting with Stuart Percy, Leo Komarov, and Daniel Winnik about how they were going to approach things before they started.
- William Nylander was the top possession player on the Leafs tonight, at an astonishing 72.7% CF. It was the best possession performance by any Leaf this preseason who was on the ice for at least 10 shot events; Nylander was on for 22. He also had a solid breakaway opportunity on Gustavsson.
- I wonder if that was the last time we see Carter Ashton on the Leafs. One has to imagine they’ll be waiving him in order to get him to the Marlies, even if he doesn’t necessarily deserve that fate. I’d say the same for Matt Frattin, but they’ll probably trade for him again.
The Toronto Marlies also played tonight, opening their preseason against the Rochester Americans in Schomberg, Ontario. They too took a lead and never ended up trailing, and even ended up scoring the five goals that the Leafs did. The goaltending wasn’t as hot, however, as both Garret Sparks and Christopher Gibson allowed two a piece. Toronto controlled the play for the entire game, particularly in a first period where they outshot the Amerks by a whopping 14-1.
Connor Brown, Spencer Machacek, Trevor Smith, Eric Knodel, and Spencer Abbott scored Toronto’s goals. Francis Wathier dropped the gloves in the second period. Brown was named the game’s first star.