It might not be an official game, but we’re about to get our first real taste of NHL hockey since late June.
Hockey fans were treated to a preseason matchup between the Winnipeg Jets and Washington Capitals last night, but the main event comes tonight when the Toronto Maple Leafs take on the Philadelphia Flyers.
Aside from the joy of watching hockey for its own sake, there’ll be a number of other things worth following in tonight’s game.
As we saw last night, both the Jets and Capitals were comfortable playing their stars so it’ll be interesting to see if the Leafs follow suit. If they do trot out some of their regular players, we might inadvertently get a good sense of what shape the team will take during the regular season.
The first big question concerns who takes net: James Reimer or Jonathan Bernier? This is the question that has divided Leafs fans since Bernier was acquired and it could have a huge impact on the team’s performance this year.
Will Bernier prove an upgrade? Does Reimer battle back to reclaim the top job? Does the competition and added pressure destroy the confidence of both young goalies? We’ll get a sense of the answers tonight.
It’ll also be interesting to see how the Leafs deploy Dave Bolland and David Clarkson – their other major acquisitions this off-season – and who’ll center the first line. Tyler Bozak remains the favourite to hold this position, but Nazem Kadri has a lot to prove these days and he has the advantage in natural skill.
There will be some young players who are inevitably given the axe – the Carter Ashtons and Tyler Biggs of the world – but there’s a handful of veterans who’ll be fighting for spots as well. There’s no longer a clear spot for John-Michael Liles on the team and he may soon find himself playing elsewhere.
Cody Franson remains without a contract so any sign of him – whether he takes the ice or sits in the box – could indicate progress on contract negotiations.
Notwithstanding these other storylines, the one that has my attention right now is Paul Ranger. He hasn’t suited up in a NHL game for over three years. It’ll be an emotional night and Ranger will want to prove that he’s worth a second chance.
Good for him.
I know it’s only an exhibition game, but I cannot for the puck to drop tonight at 6 pm. Toronto sports fans are desperate to see a real contender hit the field (or the ice in this case). It’s time to put baseball behind us and return to our true passion: hockey.
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