The Leafs last night were fast and tenacious. The forechecking was aggressive all game long, and for the most part, the team played a smart, simple game. Toskala was very sharp, the defense was good when it had to be, and the forwards threw quite a few hits along the boards. The Leafs also did a good job of keeping the puck on the Red Wing side of the ice, something they hadn't done well in either of their pre-season games against Detroit.
"They really forced the issue on us and forechecked well. They held us in our end quite a bit. And that's off determination and how fired up they were to play us."
-Detroit goalie, Chris Osgood
I liked Ron Wilson's 5 choices for wearing the "A". Kaberle, Kubina, and Jamal Mayers had the letter on their sweaters for opening night, and Antropov and Moore will also get a chance. Moore was great last night and Kulemin was excellent. Both looked good early and eventually scored big goals. I also think it's interesting that Matt Stajan was not included as one of the rotating Captains. He's been described by me as the enigma, and is often noted for being a player who "seems invisible" or "doesn't matter". So last night I tried to track Stajan's play to try to get a clear idea of his performance. Let's take a look:
On his first shift, Stajan is on the receiving end of the first good hit of the game, a clean open ice hit in the nuetral zone. He does get back up and back into the play quickly.
On his second shift, Stajan has a brief chance in front, but then loses "the handle" and Detroit breaks up the ice on the turnover. To his credit, Stajan does an excellent job of back-checking all the way down the ice and pressures the Detroit player who puts the puck off the post.
By now there's already a terrific pace to the game. On his third shift, Stajan goes invisible. The pace of the game suddenly slows down just a touch.
The fourth and fifth shift Stajan remains invisible. I feel like I'm watching an Ottawa Senators regular season game from 5 years ago - there's a lot of traffic in the nuetral zone, but not much flow. We seem to be doing something right, 'cause we're not losing, but I can't tell who's doing it or how. This seems to be when Stajan is most effective.
On his sixth shift, Stajan loses the puck and it leads to a Detroit rush and a shot on goal. After, he meekly gets involved in a scrum, then turns away before it's over, and then reluctantly rejoins the scrum again. I guess it didn't look any worse then Jason Blake's attempt to stand tall after he got run over beside the net by Maltby. At least Wilson's message of not backing down is sinking in.
I hardly saw Stajan at all in the second period. To be honest, I was a bit distracted - making dinner, changing diapers, and furiously trying to read every comment on the GameDay open thread, and trying to follow Stajan was just too challenging - but I never heard his name mentioned and I don't think he touched the puck once. He was on the ice however when Detroit scored their first goal, as is evidenced by his minus 1.
Stajan's invsibility act continues. Considering his ice-time, only 9:19, and that he had six shifts in the first, I don't think he saw a whole lot of ice in the third. He certainly did nothing to distinguish himself, except for when he sort of fell over and his stick came up and hit a Detroit player in the face. Two minutes for high-stickng (8:43) and Stajan goes to the box, just the second Leaf penalty of the game to that point (Mayers would get a late delay-of-game call for their third penalty). 37 seconds later (9:20), Detroit scores on the powerplay, Holmstrom's second of the night, to pull the Wings within one.
In the end, the Leafs hold on through the final ten minutes to win the game, 3-2.
So the final line on Matt Stajan, not-so-future-Captain, for game 1 is, no goals, no assists, for no points, no shots on goal, two penalty minutes, a minus 1, and 9:19 on the ice. And no "A" on the sweater.
The final word on Stajan's performance comes from Steve at HockeyAnalysis, with this summary:
In an interesting twist, favoured son of the Leafs media, Matt Stajan, has clearly been relegated to a 4th line role, playing only 9:19 of ice time in the entire game. Looks like all those predictions of Stajan leading the team as a future captain - based purely on the speculation around his wonderful work as the Leafs NHLPA rep - will have to fall by the wayside for now.
Well, those arrogant buffoons who all but guaranteed a letter on Stajan's jersey for the opening game are certainly eating their words now. Fortunately, I had an early sense that this wasn't going to be Stajan's year to seize his destiny. It didn't look good at a charity game in September, and it still doesn't look good. But maybe what we're not noticing, what we can't see, is the contribution Matt brings to practice and to the locker room. How much value can you put on enthusiasm? Last year, it was seriously lacking on the Maple Leafs. This year, before the puck had even dropped on the opening game, Stajan had these inspiring and encouraging words:
"It's going to be a thrill beating the defending Stanley Cup champs."
It certainly was, though few would have predicted it. I have to give Stajan some credit here. In a year where the new mantra is "Spirit Is Everything", The Invisible Matt is showing the right attitude.
"I have the best job in the world, we're playing hockey for our livelihood and playing for my favorite team growing up. I've just got to go out there and work hard and try to do my best and help the team any way I'm asked."
Good stuff. We'll be keeping an eye on ya, Stajan, though it ain't easy.
"I'm over here!"