The Toronto Maple Leafs opened up their pre-season tour with a 3-1 loss to Ottawa out in Newfoundland. Despite the scoreline, the Leafs lineup looked good and dominated most of the game. Here are four takeaways from the game.
Jason Spezza was the Leafs best player
The Leafs oldest free-agent addition who came home to Toronto to play out his childhood dream showed that he has a lot more to offer than just a feel-good story for the team. While Spezza isn’t the quickest player, his experience allows him to close gaps with positioning and put himself in good positions to win and keep possession for the team.
Spezza is likely to start the season on the fourth line, used sparingly and in specific situations to maximize his value. However, should the Leafs need to move him up the line-up he provides an option in the middle of the ice, as a specialist, and on the wing.
Frederik Gauthier isn’t ready to lose his job
Colour me surprised, but Frederik Gauthier was an absolute force and difference-maker on the ice for the Leafs in this game! It seemed like a foregone conclusion that Gauthier would cede the fourth line center spot to Spezza when the Torontonian was signed, but the Goat didn’t play like a man who has lost his job.
Maybe he’s playing like a man who doesn’t want to lose his job? His speed was gears higher than last year and his physicality made him stand out against a young Senators team. He finished the game with two hits and three shots on net, clearly trying to make an impression on his coach early in training camp.
Uh oh, I love Yegor Korshkov
Yup, it’s (extremely) early, but I’m falling in love with Yegor Korshkov already. The 23-year-old Russian winger played alongside Gauthier and Timashov on an energetic third pairing and with his 6’4 frame, Korshkov paired well with Gauthier to make a physical unit.
He took whacks after the whistle, he got his elbows high in the corners, he boxed out the opposition, and he wasn’t afraid to go to the gritty areas of the ice to get the puck. I’m not one of the old school Leaf fans who want physicality over skill, but Korshkov could have me second-guessing myself here.
The team needs time to gel
In the end, this iteration of the Leafs lineup needs time to gel together as a unit and find their identity on the ice. The second lineup with the likes of Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly, and newcomer Alexander Kerfoot will take the ice tomorrow and will likely face some of the same issues that the Tavares-Marner-Barrie team did tonight.
Errant passes and unfamiliar teammates could have been the theme for the opening game of Leafs preseason, but the skill and speed of the Toronto players eventually did take over the game. Two flukey goals, one off of a Marner giveaway, ended up giving the Sens the win, but the Leafs’ positives outweighed the negatives in this game 100%.