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article imageNHL: Leafs kick off preseason with win over Senators Special

By Aman Dhanoa     Sep 20, 2011 in Sports
Toronto - While most people are coming to terms with adjusting to fall weather and going back to school, there are many who are excited that hockey is back – yes that’s right – the NHL preseason kicked off on Monday.
The first night of action featured two hated rivals as the Toronto Maple Leafs took on the Ottawa Senators at the Air Canada Centre. Since it is just the preseason these games don’t typically have a lot of intensity or the quality of play as a regular season game, but Leafs nation was out in full force to welcome hockey back. Thousands of fans came out to cheer on their favourite team and were certainly not disappointed as the Leafs doubled up the Senators 4-2.
Tyler Bozak scored two goals in the third period and assisted on the first goal of the game by his linemate Colby Armstrong. Carl Gunnarsson added the other goal for Toronto while rookie defenceman Jared Cowen scored both goals for Ottawa.
“It was really good to get back,” said Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. “I thought we played well and it was a little back and forth, a scrambley game at times. For a group that had a bunch of new guys in the lineup in different line combinations, I thought we played well and worked hard. That’s the main thing – we came to work and we worked hard and we won our first game.”
Defenceman Jake Gardiner had an impressive NHL debut playing alongside newly acquired NHL veteran John-Michael Liles. He registered two assists, both on the powerplay, and was named game’s third star.
“Liles has been doing it his whole career, but it’s fun to see someone like Gardiner in the way he skates – he’s a natural for jumping into the play,” said Leafs Head Coach Ron Wilson. “Such a good skater if something goes wrong on his attack he’s often the first guy back, he’s right back into the play."
Gardiner, who was acquired along with forward Joffrey Lupul last February from the Anaheim Ducks for Francois Beauchemin, was admittedly nervous before the game but felt comfortable playing with Liles.
“Playing an NHL game is not something many people do and I’ve been working for it my whole life so it’s a pretty big moment in my life,” said Gardiner. “And I think that’s part of the reason why I was a little bit nervous, but it was pretty easy to get into the game once I got out there.”
“Playing with John-Michael Liles makes it really easy – we move the puck well with each other and he’s very vocal. He makes it a lot easier to play with and I think that helped tonight.”
Meanwhile, Liles has been very impressed with what he’s seen from the young defenceman so far in training camp.
“It’s one of those things where you make the jump from those scrimmages in training camp to the preseason game – that’s obviously a jump up, a lot quicker,” said Liles. “You need to get your reads quicker and I think he (Gardiner) played great tonight.”
“He made some great reads and obviously a tremendous pass on that first goal and something to be proud of – he’s got a good future for sure.”
Wilson realizes the potential that Gardiner has but is careful not to rush him into the NHL too quickly.
“He’s going to be a really good hockey player, we just have to be patient…He’s only going to keep on getting better,” added Wilson. “I watched him in his last few games with the Marlies last year and thought he played very well.”
Those comments by Wilson seem to suggest that Gardiner will most likely start the season in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies, but the defenceman isn’t overly concerned.
“I think myself I’ve had a pretty good camp and I’m just trying to do what I can do and let the rest take care of itself,” added Gardiner.
Touching Tribute
Before the puck dropped there was a moment of silence and tribute to remember former Leafs Wade Belak, Alexander Karpotsev and Igor Korolev. All three died tragically in the offseason – Belak is believed to have committed suicide at the end of August while Karpotsev and Korolev were both assistant coaches with the Kontinental Hockey League team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl that perished in an airplane crash in Russia earlier this month. The Senators also lost two former players in that tragedy – Karel Rachunek and Pavol Demitra.
Both teams decided not to play many of its top players with the Leafs sitting out its entire first line of Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and, offseason free agent signing, Tim Connolly as well as number one goaltender James Reimer, and recently re-signed defenceman Luke Schenn. Meanwhile, the Senators did not play goalie Craig Anderson, defencemen Chris Phillips and Sergei Gonchar, and forwards Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson.
The Leafs opened the scoring early in the first period on the powerplay by creating good movement within the Sens zone. With the sustained pressure, Bozak made a nice cross ice pass to Gardiner who then quickly tossed the puck at goal. Armstrong stuck out his stick to direct the puck past Alex Auld and put his team up 1-0.
Ottawa evened up the score at the 7:25 mark of the second period when Nikita Filatov turned the puck over deep inside the Leafs zone. From behind the net he centered to Cowen who sneaked in from the point and snapped a shot past Jonas Gustavsson to tie the game at 1-1.
Both teams changed their goalies halfway through the second period with Ben Scrivens replacing Gustavsson and Robin Lehner coming in for Auld.
Shortly after the goalie change the Leafs regained the lead once again on the powerplay. Gunnarsson rifled a shot from the point that deflected past Lehner who was partially screened by Clarke MacArthur. Mikhail Grabovski and Gardiner drew assists on the goal.
Bozak broke the game open early in the third period on a beautiful breakaway goal. Leafs defenceman Matt Lashoff banked a pass off the boards that came to the Leafs forward who sneaked in behind the Sens defence. Bozak then burst in on goal while holding off defencman Patrick Weircioch and slid the puck between the legs of Lehner to make it 3-1.
Cowen pulled the Senators within a goal again at 10:55 when he snapped a low shot from the point that deflected of a Leafs defenceman and fooled Scrivens just enough to get past him on the short side. Peter Regin and Filatov assisted on Cowen’s second goal of the game.
The Leafs were able to restore its two goal lead less than three minutes later. Phaneuf skated in from the point holding off a checker and fired on goal. Lehner made the first save but Bozak was on the doorstep to tap in the rebound for his second goal of the game to make it 4-2.
The Leafs are back in action on Tuesday night when the team hosts the Philadelphia Flyers at 7pm ET. Meanwhile, the Senators play its second preseason game at home on Wednesday against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins at 7:30pm ET.
This article was originally published on Oye! Times
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