It may have been against a very young and inexperienced Detroit Red Wings group, but credit where credit is due – this may have been one of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ best showings this preseason, specifically on the defensive side of the puck. Still, there’s a lot to learn (and just as many cuts to come) before Wednesday’s season opener.
The Leafs actually controlled the majority of the first and second periods tonight, but would surrender the first goal at about the game’s halfway point. Inexplicably, both Morgan Rielly and Roman Polak would let Andreas Athanasiou skate right down the middle of them on an innocent looking 1-on-2, allowing for a prime breakaway opportunity that Athanasiou would capitalize on. It was just about as ugly a goal as you can concede, with both defencemen literally watching their opponent skate by them.
To make matters worse, Toronto would again take back control of the game, and again concede a goal. On the penalty kill in the final minute of the second period, three Leafs would turn over the puck along the boards in the neutral zone and give up a three-on-one opportunity in which Hunwick had little chance of breaking up. Athanasiou would again be a factor, dishing the puck across the ice to supposed-to-be-Leaf Anthony Mantha, who lifted the puck up under the crossbar and over the stacked pads of Jonathan Bernier.
Following a second intermission in which I imagine Mike Babcock shared some choice words with his team, the Leafs would finally get on the board just 22 seconds into the third period when James van Riemsdyk would dish the puck out from behind the net and Brad Boyes would take a couple swats before burying it behind Petr Mrazek.
Despite pulling within one, though, and despite the Leafs outshooting the Red Wings 29-15, that’s how the game would end. Toronto just wouldn’t be able to beat Mrazek in a game they probably should have won.
I’m going to give it to Scott Harrington, who picked up the second assist on the Boyes goal. You might not have noticed Harrington much tonight, but that’s exactly how Coach Babcock likes it. A quiet but effective blueliner, the 22-year old just might have been impressive enough this preseason to crack the opening night roster.
The exhibition games are mercifully over, and the regular season gets under way this Wednesday when the Leafs host the Montreal Canadiens in Toronto. Tune into Sportsnet at 7:00 pm and enjoy some real, meaningful hockey.