The Leafs found themselves an opponent who actually played worse in front of their own net than they have this season. They got goaltending. Timely offensive contributions. And good news, albeit tentative, from the medical front.
And hey. Lookee here. No shootout.
A night of firsts: Jeff O'Neill's first goal as a Leaf, and a winner. Kyle Wellwood's first NHL goal. Mikael Tellqvist's first start. Did I miss any? Oh yes, the first win, a 4-2 over the Flyers that was a little closer than the score makes it appear.
|The new pads were working for Tellqvist last night.|
Where do we start with the discussion?
I have two words: Kyle Wellwood.
After the final buzzer and before the bouquets were to be handed out on the night, I'm doing the usual ritual: the Three Stars. My three stars, that is. This goes way back to nights of chips and dip, of keeping the game summary in a schoolbook that recorded the progress of the family hockey pool, and then we'd pick our stars and compare 'em to the experts (term used loosely).
Wellwood was my choice at No. 1, barely edging out Tellqvist. The kid raced to space and scored the first goal of his NHL career, and it seemed to flick a switch in him. He started to freewheel, getting space in the neutral zone and putting pressure on a Philly defence that seemed to be wondering where he came from. He was a danger from there, every time he was on the ice, the Leafs' most flowing attacker.
As for that goal, it was the future come to the present. Steen kicked the puck loose along the board behind the net to Stajan, who whipped it in front where Wellwood was screaming into the slot, fresh off the bench after Clark Wilm had come off (another scoring note of a different type: six hits on the night for Wilm, a team high).
Steen to Stajan to Wellwood. A month ago, six weeks ago, who'd have even dreamed it?
Did I read too much into this, including a plus-2 on the scoresheet for Wellwood, and four of six faceoff draws won? You tell me.
Oh, Tellqvist surely figured in there, Mark Zwolinski making him and Lindros the focus of his report here. He more than figured in during the second period when the Flyers had the Leafs pinned and looking completely scattered in their own end. Eric Lindros' take:
"Telly was certainly head and shoulders above any other player on the ice."
The Leafs' defensive woes did not go away -- it was Khavanov's turn to look especially miserable, guilty of a couple of blown assignments, one of which resulted in Philly's first goal, and some nervous puckhandling -- but they got big-time cover from their backup goalie.
As for Lindros, O'Neill and Allison, they all did their part just as John Ferguson Jr. envisioned it -- as the Globe's Tim Wharnsby noted, Lindros' line spending the night matched against his usual opposite, Peter Forsberg. (For Rosie's take on O'Neill with a bit of Wellwood mixed in, that's right here. And as for Lindros taking on his old mates, click here). The three new Leafs picked up the slack in their own way for the departed Mats Sundin, who may not require surgery, at least according to Pat Quinn's reading of the X-rays. So too did Ken Klee, solid all night -- even Aki Berg, whose positioning was much better against an opponent that, like them, is built more for size than speed.
Just one win. But it's the first one. No alarm bells allowed for the next day or so, at least.
Oh, and a couple of other things: Bryan Marchment has landed in Calgary. And the Marlies open their home schedule tonight. (C.Y.)
To the links, where we look ahead to Friday, when the Leafs meet the suddenly high-flying Atlanta Thrashers. The bad news? Super sniper Illya Kovalchuk plays his first game tonight against the Canadiens -- great, a chance to warm up just in time for the Leafs.
Here's an update on Boston's Joe Thornton and his aching back -- the big centre may leave the team for some therapy.
New rules report: Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella has had it. The Bolts are doing away with the no red line rule.
"I think the new rules have played with the minds of some of our players, especially our offensive people," Lightning coach John Tortorella says. "… they think, 'I have to make that long pass.' To me it turns into more turnovers than helping you offensively trying to force that long pass."
"We are going to instill playing with the red line, I don't give a damn what the rule says, we don't have to play without the red line," Tortorella tells the Tampa Bay Tribune. "And our guys are going to play with the red line just to get them to come back. So this (is) going to be a process, especially for our offensive people, they have to understand that."
On the other side of the
red line coin, Dallas goalie Marty Turco reacts today to defending a one-goal lead last night against, among late penalties, a six-on-three in the dying seconds after Phoenix pulled the goalie with a two-man advantage:
"It's just the way the league is: You're going to fight tooth and nail to the end," Turco tells the Dallas Morning News. "That's great for hockey, it's great for fans. It's not great for my blood pressure. Thank goodness I'm young."
So the hockey has been great so far. And here's why it's only going to get better: Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman is expected to be in the lineup tomorrow, prompting memories of another Red Wings great coming back to play with the Wings. (SW)