Surprises Abound In Leafs Season-Opening Win
Thursday, 10.6.2011 / 11:11 PM ET / News
By Mike Ulmer - Mapleleafs.com commentator
Who knew that the acquisition who contributed most to the Leafs 2-0 opening night win over Montreal would be a forward named David Steckel whose only shot on goal was stopped?
Who knew that Matt Lombardi the high-risk throw-in to bring Cody Franson to the Leafs would net the winner while Franson would sit the night out as the seventh defenceman?
Lombardi scored the winning goal, a shorthanded marker in the first minute of the second period. Dion Phaneuf rifled another past Carey Price in the third.
Who knew Mike Komisarek, pilloried in two tough seasons in Toronto would lead a Toronto block party of 20 shots, eight more than the Canadiens? Komisarek spent the night meting out punishment. The scorekeepers from the sky credited him with six of the Leafs 15 hits.
Leafs netminder James Reimer was called upon to stop 32 shots compared to only 18 for Carey Price and for one night, every seed planted in the days, hours and weeks leading up to opening night bore some measure of fruit.
Start with Steckel, a six-foot-five, 29-year-old who makes a million bucks a year for doing the same thing repeatedly: win face-off after face-off with a rapier-like backhand sweep.
Steckel won 18 of 25 draws, including 13 of 17 in his own end. A lion’s share of those came with the Leafs killing off one of their five shorthanded situations.
“It was huge,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson, who used Steckel for nearly half of his team’s draws (25 of 61).
The funny thing about a good face-off guy is that you never realized how much you were missing until you get one. They’re like girlfriends that way.
Thanks to Steckel, the Leafs penalty kill habitually started with 1:30 left and their forwards downfield.
“Instead of losing that draw where the other teams sets up and you are chasing 45 seconds or a minute we get it out and they have to start all over again,” Komisarek said. “It’s a huge advantage.”
For his part, Steckel was properly coy about his technique.
He keeps all the information in his black book, the one centrally located between his ears.
“It’s not a big thing, it’s just tendencies. If you name me a guy I can tell you something about him.”
Let’s move on to Lombardi, an honest hockey player playing his first regular season game in a year because of a concussion he incurred in his second and only game as Nashville Predator.
Toiling on the penalty kill and with Mike Brown and Jay Rosehill 5X5, Lombardi turned in 11:02 of breathless action; when you haven’t played that long you are bound to be winded.
Lombardi, fresh after intermission, directed a good chance at Price, circled the net and looked down to find the puck on his stick as if by divine design.
You couldn’t blame an onlooker for thinking that after a year in the wilderness, someone big was throwing the guy a break. He lifted the puck in the net and then, stunned skated to the bench.
“It was probably the worst goal celebration in the world,” Lombardi said.
It was probably the best.
Jake Gardiner, playing his first NHL game, was cut for a half dozen stitches in the first period. He acquitted himself nicely, played a controlled 13:37 and escape unscathed if not unmarked.
Playing with Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak delivered a solid 18:34 and skated beautifully.
The Leafs put their perfect season on the line Saturday when they host the Ottawa Senators.