I watched all of the Leafs-Sens game last night as well as some portions of several other games. Here are my random thoughts from what I saw.
Overall they looked very good and only some weak defensive play resulting in Alfredsson’s second goal put a damper on an otherwise good night. If they can play like that every game they will have a very good season. They looked big, strong on the puck, and their average speed didn’t appear to be major liability. Losing Sundin to injury in the first period seemed to hurt the Leafs a lot, especially on the power play.. It has been a common problem for the Leafs the last several years but I really think they need to shoot more often while on the power play. For the most part while on the man advantage they controlled play in Ottawa’s zone but just didn’t generate the number of scoring chances they should have from 11 power plays. The new guys did their part though as Jeff O’Neill had eight shots on net and Lindros had five while the rest of the team only recorded 12. There is no reason why Kaberle should only have 1 shot from all that power play time.
Although they got the win, any realistic Senator fan has to be somewhat concerned by last nights game. The Senators took way too many penalties and the Leafs managed to keep the Senators offence under control for most of the game. The other thing that might concern Senators fans is that Brian Murray’s plan to distribute the offence over three lines appears to have failed so far. Although Alfredsson played well most of the game, he simply couldn’t generate much offence playing with Fisher and Neil. And maybe more concerning is that the second line of Schaeffer, Smolinski and Havlat haven’t been producing much offence through the pre-season and now into the regular season. In 21 combined games so far they produced just 4 goals and 9 points. If the Senators are going to have a successful season they need that line to contribute more goals.
Ummm, maybe I would have a different opinion had the Leafs won the shoot-out, but I doubt it. People talk about how interesting the shoot-out is, but to be honest it wasn’t one tenth as interesting as the actual hockey game. It just seemed that going from a fast paced, hard hitting, nail biting regular game and overtime to a slow paced shoot-out was a bit of a let down. The shoot-out takes about 10 minutes to take place but most of that is just watching players stand around waiting for one of them to take 5 seconds skating down the ice on a breakaway. And when you think about it, all it proved was that the Senators have more pure talent than the Sundin-less Leafs, but didn’t we already know that?
In other games, I think last night showed that despite the new rules and smaller pads, good goaltending is still a key component of the game. Hasek and Belfour played great, and Theodore saved 29 of 30 shots to get Montreal the win. Luongo once again over came a sub-par defence and stopped 34 shots to give the Panthers a 2-0 shutout win. And Martin Brodeur looked nothing short of awesome in stopping 17 first period shots from the Pittsburgh Penguins and 36 of 37 overall in a 5-1 Devils win. Conversely, in Philadelphia, Robert Esche struggled at times giving up 5 goals on 27 shots allowing the Rangers to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win 5-3. Nikolai Khabibulin’s carrer in Chicago didn’t get off to a great start as he gave up 5 goals on just 24 shots to the Ducks from Anaheim.
I was watching bits of the first period of the Buffalo-New York Islanders game (not sure why, just was), and some guy names Chris Campoli really caught my eye. He is a rookie defenseman for the Islanders and he completely dominated while quarterbacking one Islander power play and scored his first career goal in his first NHL game shortly after. I am not sure he will have any kind of long-term success but for those couple minutes he was excellent.
And finally, so far things look positive in the NHL’s desire for more goals. As you may have noticed from the table in the top-right corner of this page goals per game after 15 games is up to 6.33 from 5.00 in 2003-04. Of course it is still way too early to say whether it will continue but so far so good.