Game Day Questions: Toronto Maple Leafs vs Pittsburgh Penguins


Game Day Questions: Toronto Maple Leafs vs Pittsburgh Penguins

The Toronto Maples Leafs opened the new season with a very sloppy effort against the very beatable Montreal Canadiens. After dominating the first period of play, they basically decided to forfeit the rest of the game. (How else can you read it?)

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They can’t afford to make the same mistake tonight when Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins hit the ice at the Air Canada Centre. The Penguins are a team that’ll dominate you from the opening faceoff if you show any signs of weakness.

What challenges await the Leafs tonight?

1) “The Kids are Alright”: can Brandon Kozun and Stuart Percy continue to impress?

Oct 3, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Brandon Kozun (67) heads up ice against the Detroit Red Wings at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Detroit 5-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

I must admit it: Brandon Kozun and Stuart Percy were the two Leafs who really grabbed my attention in the opening game. They both displayed tremendous confidence for a pair of greenhorns making their first appearances in the NHL, and they both showed flashes of offensive brilliance in recording their first NHL points, too.

Kozun assisted on Nazem Kadri‘s first goal of the season for both himself and the Leafs while Percy contributed to Tyler Bozakand the Leafs’ first power play goal of the season.

(A critic would lambaste Percy for his part in the Canadiens’ winning goal, but this was the type of play that plagues young and old players alike. If you cover your man in front of the net, you’re also at risk of letting the puck deflect off your skate and into the net. It sucks, but it’s hard to avoid. You’re either there or somewhere else, which is worse.)

The problem with young players, however, is consistency. What we saw Wednesday night might be a sign of the future or it might’ve been the amped up play of two kids making their NHL debuts. We won’t really know the answer to this question until some point later in the season, but we should throw some caution on our overly quick embrace of Kozun and Percy.

2) What kind of effort will Jonathan Bernier put in tonight?

Oct 8, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier (45) looks at defenseman Stuart Percy (50) after a shot by Montreal Canadiens forward Tomas Plekanec (14) scores the winning goal at the Air Canada Centre. Montreal defeated Toronto 4-3. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

If we’re being honest, Jonathan Bernier didn’t look sharp to start Wednesday’s season opener. Max Pacioretty‘s opening goal of the contest was equally captain Dion Phaneuf‘s and Bernier’s fault. I don’t play goal, but even I know to hug the post like a long-lost relative. From here, Bernier rebounded a bit before allowing the final goal of the game – a harmless goal that looked bad on the entire defence.

We know Bernier has the potential to guard the Leafs’ net for years. We also know James Reimer is waiting in the shadows for his chance to steal the spotlight (again). My fear is that another shaky start from Bernier may quickly reignite the “Bernier or Reimer?” saga, which could be devastating to the Leafs at such an early point in the season.

Bernier can silence the complaining choir of armchair coaches tonight by putting in a solid effort against the Penguins.

3) Was that David Clarkson?

Apr 8, 2014; Tampa, FL, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing David Clarkson (71) against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the first period at Tampa Bay Times Forum. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Another of the things I liked from Wednesday’s game was David Clarkson‘s play. Yes, you read that correctly: Clarkson was noticeable on Wednesday and generated a few offensive chances for the team. In fact, I think it was one of his best games since joining the Leafs last season. It was classic Clarkson stuff: physical, opportunistic and dominate.

Clarkson even came across as borderline talented, which is probably the pinnacle of his game. If Clarkson puts together a second straight effort like this, he could quickly endear himself to Leafs Nation.

(We want to like the guy. It’s just so hard. You know what I mean?)

That’s it for our today. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

I can’t wait to get my Clarkson face on tonight.

Follow me on Twitter for regular posts about sports (especially the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Blue Jays), politics and other news topics: @williamefwilson