The first weekend of the 2011-2012 NHL season is in the books and the Toronto Maple Leafs are an impressive 2-0. The Leafs opened their season at home on Thursday night against the Montreal Canadiens. Leafs center, Matthew Lombardi participated in his first NHL game since last October in which he suffered a concussion that ended his season. He showed no signs of discomfort and scored the Leafs first goal of the season, shorthanded early on in the second period. Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf added another goal in the third period on a nice set-up by Phil Kessel to make it 2-0. James Reimer made 32 saves for his first shutout of the season and the Leafs defeated their hated rivals to open up their campaign on a good note. Also debuting in Thursday’s game was center, David Steckel. The Leafs accquired Steckel last Tuesday just days before the season opener. Known as a faceoff specialist, Steckel showed his ability to win key draws when it mattered most. He was 18-for-25 in the faceoff circle, winning many draws on the penalty kill as well as 5-on-5 in the Leafs own zone. Mike Komisarek was in the lineup Thursday night against Montreal but at the expense of young Cody Franson. Franson was accquired in the offseason along with Matthew Lombardi from Nashville and he was thought to be the Leafs 5th or 6th defenseman. Komisarek’s dismal play last season and previous struggles suggests that it may be in the Leafs best interest to ship him elsewhere. Tim Connolly, the Leafs prized off-season acquisition also missed the game and is still day-to-day after suffering an injury during practice a few weeks ago. Clarke MacArthur was suspended for the first 2 games of the season and will be back in the lineup this upcoming Saturday when the Leafs host the Calgary Flames at the Air Canada Centre.
On Saturday night the Leafs played their 2nd game of the season at home against the Ottawa Senators. The Leafs open the season with 5 consecutive games at the Air Canada Centre. The Leafs jumped out to a 2-0 lead after one period of play. Mikhail Grabovski scored his first goal of the season on the powerplay with seven minutes remaining in the first period. Phil Kessel sniped his first of three goals on the night with under two minutes to play in the period. The Leafs collected their second powerplay goal of the game on a deflection by Joffrey Lupul. Phil Kessel scored his second goal of the game on a breakaway, putting a nice move on Sens goalie Craig Anderson to do so. At the end of two periods the Leafs led it 4-0. Going into the third everything seemed to be going the Leafs way. Reimer again was playing solid and was getting plenty of help in front of him. The Leafs blocked 16 shots in the game and David Steckel was a big part of that. He made several key blocks on the penalty kill and won several faceoff’s to get the puck out of the zone and into Ottawa territory. The Senators came out firing and scored an early goal to cut the deficit to three. The Leafs got one back a few minutes later with a goal by Colton Orr. At the mid-way point in the period, Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson sniped his first goal of the season, short-handed, on a breakaway as he was leaving the penalty box after serving a two-minute minor penalty for tripping. Moments later Jason Spezza scored on the powerplay to make it 5-3. The Sens had rejuvenated energy and were looking to mount a comeback and beat the Maple Leafs. Eight seconds after Spezza’s goal, Alfredsson scored his second goal of the game and the lead was down to one. Leafs coach, Ron Wilson called a timeout immediately following the goal and attempted to settle his guys down and finish off the game. The Leafs came back moments after the timeout and Phil Kessel scored again to extend their lead to 6-4. This goal was Kessel’s third of the game, giving him the hat trick and an impressive start to his 2011-2012 campaign. The Sens would not go down easy against the Leafs as yet again they scored but they could not find a way to tie it up late and the Leafs would hang on to win it 6-5. Phil Kessel was the games first star and what was truly impressive about his performance was his pure hustle and outstanding defensive play throughout the entire game. He finished with 4 points and was plus 3 on the night. During the second period, Dion Phaneuf showed his physical dominance when he landed a devastating hit on Sens forward Stephane Da Costa. It was a clean hit and no one was injured on the play. Da Costa had his head down coming through the Leafs zone and Phaneuf absolutely imploded on him and Da Costa landed hard on the ice, losing his helmet in the process. It was definitely a disappointing third period for the Leafs. Sloppy and lazy play allowed the Senators to get back into the game and almost tie it. Ron Wilson should not be happy with that third period and with a full week of practice, there will be many adjustments made to fix those un-necessary mistakes. Tim Connolly should also make his Maple Leafs debut on Saturday against Calgary and Clarke MacArthur will be in the lineup after serving his two game suspension. Overall, it was an encouraging start to the season for the Toronto Maple Leafs and they will be looking to build on their successes going forward. The key for the Leafs is to remain consistent. They need to play smart hockey and stay in the moment. They must take it one game at a time and never give up, no matter what the circumstances. If they can do this, they should be in good shape as we continue the journey through this 2011-2012 NHL season.
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Link to game highlights: http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/console?hlg=20112012,2,11