Leafs: Game 1 Questions and Answers

William Wilson January 19, 2013 1
Mikhail Grabovski scores against the Montreal CanadiensPhoto by David Cooper/The Toronto Star

Join me this season as I pose four critical questions before every Leafs game that the team must answer in order to secure the win. Come back afterwards to see how the Boys in Blue & White fared and don’t be afraid to share your own thoughts as well!

It’s going to be a short season, but a fun one. Every game counts!

The Leafs open the new season tonight against the Montreal Canadiens. Game starts at 7:00 pm EST.

Another season, another chance to disappoint…

The Leafs open the new season tonight in Montreal against their historic rivals, les Habs. Both teams finished in the bottom of the Eastern Conference last season so it’s important that each of them get off to a fast start this season.

Here are four factors that could stand in the Leafs’ path to victory:

1) Who starts in net? Conventional wisdom says the start goes to James Reimer, but the team has been surprisingly quiet on this question. Ben Scrivens is definitely challenging for the #1 position, having played well throughout the lockout and outplaying Reimer during pre-season drills. It may finally be time to acknowledge Scrivens’ hard work for the Marlies – he brought the team to its first-ever Calder Cup final last season. Regardless of who starts in net, however, it’s important that the Leafs pick one goalie and stick to him. We don’t want to see the same type of yo-yo treatment that left Reimer, former Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson and Scrivens with little confidence last season.

Scrivens got the start and while he looked nervous at times, the win came his way. Expect Scrivens to start in net on Monday. We won’t know the real outcome of the goaltending issue until the Leafs play a strong team.

2) Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul have not played together in a real NHL game since March 6, 2012 when Lupul left the game early with an injury. The two were responsible for a good portion of the Leafs’ offence before the injury and they were one of the most productive pairs in the league at the time. How quickly can they rekindle the magic?

There were flashes of magic between the two and Kessel collected two assists on the night. A good start to what hopefully proves an even better season.

3) A key part of the Leafs’ late season success in 2010-2011 came from their second line. Mikhail Grabovski (29 goals, 29 assists), Clarke MacArthur (21 goals, 41 assists) and Nikolai Kulemin (30 goals, 27 assists) all had career years playing together. Unfortunately, their production dropped dramatically the following season (except for Grabovski, who maintained a similar level of performance) and the trio often found themselves separated as a result. Grabovski and Kulemin had strong lockout season in the KHL and MacArthur is likely eager to prove something in a contract year. Can the Leafs’ second line rediscover their magic?

This one is hard to judge given that the Leafs found themselves on the power play several times, breaking up the regular line combinations. From what I saw, however, the three looked good together though it was really the third line, led by Nazem Kadri, that stole the show.

4) There are few intangibles in the NHL off the ice, but the crowd at the Bell Centre is certainly one of them. After a long lockout, how do the fans treat the players in general? What about management? Finally, will their taunts prove an advantage for the Canadiens? Hockey’s back. I’m excited and I’m sure the same goes for those who will be in attendance tonight. Go Leafs go!

The fans were there, but they couldn’t push the home town over the hill.

Bonus Questions: Mike Komisarek either sinks or swims every time he returns to Montreal. How does he perform tonight?

Komisarek was rarely visible, which suggests a good performance.

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