The Toronto Maple Leafs opened their pre-season schedule with a loss against the Ottawa Senators but don’t get too worried about the results.
NHL hockey is back and for the Toronto Maple Leafs, the pre-season schedule is very crucial considering the changes made during the off-season.
There shouldn’t be a big emphasis on how many wins or losses the team has during the exhibition schedule just as long as they are competitive and get players the reps they need ahead of the regular season. It is more crucial considering Mike Babcock also has two assistant coaches in Dave Hakstol and Paul McFarland.
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One thing that was obvious against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night was the Leafs trying to work out some new players in the lineup, the power play and obviously the team’s defensive play.
Babcock summed up the game perfectly in his post-game comments reminding everyone that there is a lot of hockey to be played and this will help them make adjustments to their gameplan.
An interesting comment from the head coach came when asked about Jason Spezza and what he wanted to see from the veteran centre.
"“(Spezza) is trying to figure out if he’s interested, and we’re doing the same,” said Babcock.“He’s never had a role (like this). We’re going to have him penalty killing, taking face-offs, playing on the fourth line. It’s not what you’re used to. It’s a totally different thing. So we’re just going to keep plugging away and see where it goes.”"
Many of us know about Spezza’s ability to put up points but it appears as if Babcock is challenging him to have an interest in contributing to other areas. Right now, that doesn’t seem to be an issue and maybe challenging Spezza to earn a defined role will make him appreciate what he really wants which is to win a Stanley Cup.
Babcock also got his first look at Kasperi Kapanen taking Zach Hyman‘s spot on the top line with John Tavares and Mitch Marner. Getting a goal is obviously a positive but that’s not going to be the only thing that will help Kapanen earn the promotion. He has to be relentless on the forecheck and use his speed as a big advantage too.
One thing this pre-season will likely show is that if Kapanen cannot provide the Leafs with the play they need on that top line, it will be interesting to see which player can put their name into consideration.
On the blue line, we saw the Jake Muzzin and Tyson Barrie pairing make their debut together and heading into the game, Babcock said both defencemen complement each other. It will take some time for both players to get accustomed to each other but you saw Barrie show some of what made him an off-season target while Muzzin looked like he was working out some kinks.
Don’t be too worried about the first pre=season game and hopefully, a couple of players on the bubble provides some intriguing storylines to follow.
What are your thoughts from the first pre-season game? Did you see any encouraging or troubling signs? Let us know in the comments below.