TORONTO – The pre-season might be over, but Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson feels the work is far from done.
Tomas Kaberle and Kris Versteeg each had a goal and an assist Saturday as the Maple Leafs used a red-hot power play to beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-2.
It wrapped up a busy of stretch of nine exhibition games in 12 days for the Maple Leafs, who didn’t have much trouble with a team that more closely resembled Detroit’s AHL affiliate than one of the Western Conference powerhouses. The Red Wings only dressed six or seven regulars.
Wilson used virtually the same starting lineup as he’ll send out in Thursday’s regular season opener against Montreal and saw a few things he didn’t like.
“We just haven’t had time to do some things,” he said. “That’s what we’ll focus on this week—some little nuances, little bad habits that some guys have that we have to find a way to change.”
The coach seemed most concerned about the play of his defencemen and “how they take people out along the boards.” Wilson has tried to iron some of the bad habits using video, but thinks he’ll be more successful with the practice time he gets before the regular season.
The competition is bound to be tougher than what they saw on Saturday.
“They didn’t have their full lineup over there, but we still tried to play our type of game,” said Versteeg. “I think we did that.”
One of the veterans Red Wings coach Mike Babcock sent in was Jimmy Howard because he wanted the No. 1 goalie to face a lot of shots. The Leafs did most of their damage with the man advantage, going 3-for-6 overall.
Clarke MacArthur and Tyler Bozak also had goals for Toronto (5-3-1). Phil Kessel added three assists.
Cory Emmerton and Tomas Tatar replied for the Red Wings (3-4-0).
Detroit briefly held a 1-0 lead courtesy of a power-play goal by Emmerton, but Toronto quickly took back the momentum. MacArthur made it 1-1 at 14:19 of the first period after linemate Mikhail Grabovski turned Red Wings defenceman Jonathan Ericsson inside-out and found him open in the slot.
The Leafs went ahead 2-1 on another goal created from the rush. Bozak saw a pass intended for Kessel deflect off a Detroit player and in.
It was a productive exhibition season for the Leafs top unit of Versteeg, Bozak and Kessel. They’ll be looking to build on that moving forward.
“Me and Phil had never played with Kris,” said Bozak. “I think gradually each game we got a lot better, knowing where each other was and things like that. I really think that pre-season means a lot, just getting chemistry with the team and the guys.
“Hopefully we can carry that on to the season.”
A pair of power-play goals in the second period by Toronto put the game out of reach. Defenceman Dion Phaneuf was standing in front of the net for both of them—causing some havoc when Versteeg cashed in a rebound at 4:41 and screening Howard when Kaberle’s point shot found its way through at 11:41.
It was an encouraging sign for the Leafs, who were ranked 30th on the power play last season.
“Now (other teams) are going to have to worry about all five guys on the ice,” said Kaberle.
Wilson replaced starting goalie J-S Giguere with backup Jussi Rynnas to start the third period. The only goal the Finn surrendered was to Tatar on a power play that came about when Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn took exception to a hit from Justin Abdelkader and went after the Detroit forward.
Schenn was assessed 19 minutes in penalties on the one play—two for unsportsmanlike conduct, two for instigating, five for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct.
“Maybe I just wasn’t expecting it I guess—to get hit a little bit lower,” said Schenn.
It didn’t hurt the team much. The crowd at Air Canada Centre rose to its feet as the final seconds ticked away on the exhibition schedule.
A year ago, the Leafs dropped their final pre-season game 7-6 to the Buffalo Sabres—a night GM Brian Burke would later reveal gave him the first real indication of the struggles to come. This time around, he wasn’t left with anything to panic about.
“It was a different feeling last year,” said Wilson. “This is an entirely different group of people.”
Notes: Wilson plans to make his final round of cuts on Monday morning … Leafs centre Mike Zigomanis filled in for Christian Hanson, who was nursing a minor injury … Detroit wraps up its exhibition schedule with a home game against Pittsburgh on Sunday … Canadian comedian Russell Peters filmed a scene for an upcoming movie at Air Canada Centre after the game … Announced attendance was 18,807.