Saturday, September 25, 2010

On Second Thought, Moral Victories In The Pre-Season Are Fine

Things are starting to look up.

I'm not too concerned with shoot-out wins and losses. The Leafs are competing, and that's what counts at this stage. Young players are starting to shine. Leaders are starting to emerge. Puzzle pieces are coming together. The outlook is positive and the fun is just beginning.

Young Players Are Starting To Shine

Your favourite Italian and mine is now Luca Caputi. This kid's got some charm and isn't shy at all. Plus, I just love saying his name. Luca Caputi. I probably say it 50 times a day. Sometimes I don't even know I'm saying it. I use it to denote exclamation instead of words like yes or wow.

"Chicken wings and fries? Luca Caputi! Every night this week? Luca Caputi!"

I also use it as a stop-gap, instead of umm or y'know, when I can't think of what I want to say.

"I know it's late, but... uh-Luca Caputi... the internet needs me."

And my wife uses it as a code for marital harmony.

"Well, you can forget about any Luca Caputi this month!"

The list of words that compares with the linguistic eloquence of Luca Caputi is short: Godzilla, stormtrooper, cheeseburger, screwdriver, cannonball, alligator, donnybrook, dynamite, and jellO. That's your top 10 of all time. Luca Caputi comes in at number 4.

Oh, and the kid can play hockey. More then that, he seems to have a strong desire to make his presence felt, and force management to strongly consider his inclusion. In the 2 pre-season games he's played, Caputi has 4 points - 1 goal and 3 assists - to lead the team in scoring. He makes no mistake here (1:14) in his shoot-out attempt, and below, shows some quickness and grit by going to the net hard and slamming the loose puck home.

Leaders Are Starting To Emerge

Despite letting the Flyers slip back in last night's contest, Giguere was solid in net for the Leafs, showing veteran focus and poise, allowing the Leafs to concentrate on their game. Perhaps more importantly, the late collapse, however flukey, underscores where work needs to be done, and with 29 saves on 32 shots, we can be reasonably sure the fault isn't with the goaltending. In fact, Giguere's attitude and experience are already proving their worth as the goaltender lends his voice in a positive way after what could have been a demoralizing defeat.

"I think the last five minutes we stopped skating," said Giguere. "We thought the game was in the bag. It's a good example for a young group — hopefully we'll get a lesson out of this one and move forward learning something."

Another good sign Friday night was the impressive and encouraging play of both Dion Phaneuf and Kris Versteeg. Both of them had multiple point nights, scoring a goal and an assist each. Versteeg's goal was the result of clever presence around the net and the fearlessness required to gather and control a loose puck in the slot and then calmly deliver.

You can't do that if you're worried about screwing up. Versteeg carries the puck with confidence, is out there making plays, and looks strong and relaxed. Like Hagman did for brief flashes before him, Versteeg exemplifies what a complete hockey player should be and will hopefully show the young emerging stars like Kessel and Bozak how to comfortably travel the road to success.

Puzzle Pieces Are Coming Together

Friday night gave us our first look in a long time at what promises to be a fun pairing - Kaberle and Komisarek. They looked good together, and once they get completely familiar with each other's style - which never really happened last year - I think they're going to be very efficient and effective blueliners that can hurt opponents in a lot of different ways. Gunnarsson, Beauchemin, and Schenn all look to be in strong form already, and along with Captain Phaneuf, make an impressive group that should find chemistry less elusive this year.

Up front, Kessel, Bozak, and Kulemin looks like a legitimate top line that's going to be consistently dangerous. Versteeg could substitute in there very nicely, with Kulemin more then capable of playing on Grabbo's wing. MacArthur is still a question mark in my mind. Despite two assists he hasn't stood out much and has kind of a Stempniak quality about him, though he does have an infinitely cooler sounding name. Clarke. Right now I'd throw Caputi into the top-six, but it's still early.

That leaves Armstrong, Brown, Hanson, Kadri, Mitchell, and Mueller fighting for 3 spots. The remaining 2 will go to Orr and Sjostrom, though a body will have to be carried until the latter comes back. I think you can safely scratch Kadri and Mueller off that list as both could use a little seasoning though their futures look bright. The guy who should be most worried is John Mitchell.

Complicating matters, especially for John, is the solid effort of Wayne Primeau. It says a lot about this player's character that he was invited back to camp on a try-out, and says even more that he's found a way to work himself into the line-up. He must be doing all the right things in practice, and last night, Primeau was hustling and banging and making his case. Paired with Orr, he picked up an assist on Kessel's goal and helped give him the room to score by creating traffic in front. Primeau was a plus 1 over 11:40 ice time, with 5 shots on goal, and 2 penalty minutes.

If nothing ever comes of it, Primeau can at least move on knowing he hasn't embarrassed himself, and his competitive contribution to camp is appreciated. However, I think it's quite likely that Mitchell's time in Toronto is running out under Wilson without him showing a small leap forward in development. If so, that could open up a door for Primeau to get on to the roster as a utility player. Though he likely wouldn't have the endurance for a full 82-game season, Primeau's presence in the dressing room and on the road would be far more inspirational then John Mitchell's, while, I suspect, his leadership held in higher regard.

Still 5 exhibition games to go, but it's nice to see things coming together, new leaders emerging, and the not-too-distant future looking bright. As I said, I'm not too worried about shoot-out wins and losses in the pre-season, and I guess the refs can't be blamed on Kessel's no-goal in overtime. They apparently didn't get the memo that this year things are going to be different.

Game In Six - Kessel's goal at 4:50


Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

"Well, you can forget about any Luca Caputi this month!"

That one made me chuckle. Caputi's ass is, literally, the talk of the town.

I thought Primeau played well last night. I don't think it's a bad idea to have him centre the 4th line while a guy like Mueller gets more prominent ice-time with the Marlies.

general borschevsky said...

Cheers eyebleaf. You know what to expect from Primeau, and he's got a lot of heart. I wouldn't mind seeing him in Toronto for another season, even just as a space holder while Mueller and others develop. In the end, the added competition for jobs is a benefit in itself.

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

Aaaaaaand Primeau's been released.

general borschevsky said...

Too bad about Primeau. Wilson and Burke went out of their way to say some nice things about him though. I wish him well.