The Leafs started well and looked more energetic since they played Montreal out shooting the wings 6-1 early on despite giving up an early penalty.
Legacy was forced to make some good saves as both the Sundin-Ponikarovsky-Antropov line and the Wellwood-Tucker-O’Neil line looked sharp.
The Leafs took three early penalties (some a little suspect if you ask me) and killed them off very well. Clarke Wilm looked very good on the PK and this is why he will remain on this team. In fact the Leaf PK has gotten a ton of practice in the pre-season which will probably stand them in good stead to start the year since they have a noticeable habit of taking large amounts of penalties in each game.
Mats Sundin alone had three calls against him, which led Joe Bowen to quip that he could challenge for the lead in penalty minutes this year.
Antropov looked better in the first 10 minutes of this game than he has all pre season. Perhaps the message from Leaf nation is getting through to him. Namely: effort counts in this town buddy. No floating allowed.
The Leafs had 18 shots in the first period but Detroit woke up in the second and out shot them for the rest of the game they managed however to beat Belfour only twice as Eddy rebounded from a poor outing against Buffalo earlier this week.
Both teams power play and penalty kill units looked more like regular season form. Compared to the disorganized stuff we saw early on in the pre-season. In fact the game had more of a regular season feel in general.
You could see that the Leafs are in much better shape now than they were in the first couple of weeks of camp. There was definitely more jump to their step. Even Antropov looked speedy and by speedy I mean slow but not a slow as a turtle, more like the speed of an old Soviet era Tractor plowing the fields of Kazakhstan. But it is an improvement. I don’t know about him and Pony starting the season as a line with Sundin though. It could work but I think Sundin might need some faster wingers. However the Swedish Gordie Howe does tend to improve the play of others around him and he certainly can drag those two along with him.
One thing that was obvious last night is that the Leafs without Lindros and Allison are not pushovers. In fact the line combinations last night suggested that should one or both of these guys fall during the regular season it isn’t a total disaster. And that is due to the fact that the Leafs have some good young centers that can step up.
Aside from the Sundin line last night we had:
Tucker-Wellwood-O’Neil and they were a threat to score regularly O’Neil has a tremendous shot and teams would be wise not to let this guy get a clear shot at anytime.
Steen-Stajan-Thomas (looks like Stumpy will not make the team though)
Wilm-Kilger-Czerkawski (hey even the fourth line has a potential scorer)
Domi also didn’t play so if the line up had to withstand an injury to Lindros and Allison I could see Domi on the fourth line with Czerkawski on the third with Stajan and Steen. This could work since Steen very responsible in his own end whereas Czerkawski hasn’t yet looked up the words “backchecking” or “defense” in his Polish-English dictionary.
The defense was close to the regular season pairings with the unusual step by Quinn of playing both Colaiacovo and Kronwall together – even seeing PK duty which is a pretty strong endorsement of the impression these two are starting to make at this level.
Colaiacovo looked much better than he has in recent games. And he also looked very good on the PP putting a hard shot on the net, which resulted in the fourth Leafs goal. However he does tend to make costly turnovers in his own end. His errant pass did lead to a late goal by Maltby. If Carlo is to stick Pat will have to pair him with a more defensive minded veteran. A good choice would be Klee but he is out and upon his return both Colaiacovo and Kronwall could be sharing a cab to the Ricoh center.
The Leafs defense pairings were as follows:
Belfour played the entire game and was backed up by Michael Tellqvist
Both teams hook up for their final pre-season games tonight at Air Canada Center. The big show starts Wednesday when some team from Ottawa shows up.
Bring it on.