The elusive "C" word
The Leafs beat Buffalo last night, giving the team a .500 pre-season record after six games. And with three exhibition games remaining, the "C" word is creeping into heavy rotation.
From the Associated Press:
"Kessel has netted four goals in three preseason games… He has quickly found chemistry with linemates Tyler Bozak and Kris Versteeg."
From the National Post:
"Kessel scored on the powerplay and again at even strength in the first period. Off-season acquisition Kris Versteeg drew an assist on both goals, hinting at the chemistry that might develop on Toronto's top line, which featured Tyler Bozak at centre."
From the Canadian Press (via CBC):
"The Leafs sniper has scored four times in three pre-season games – five, if you include a goal that was incorrectly waved off in overtime last Friday – and seems to have found some chemistry with linemates Tyler Bozak and Kris Versteeg."
I was chatting with Dave Nonis, the Leafs senior vice-president of hockey operations. I asked him a simple question: "Going into the regular season, what keeps you up at night?"
He answered my question with three questions:
"Are your young players ready? Can you remain healthy? And are your acquisitions going to mesh together?"
Chemistry is the elusive variable in professional sport. Managers and coaches can study binders full of arcane stats. They can consult psychologists. They can match skill-sets. Hell, they break into NASA and use a super-computer to build predictive models about who should play together and why.
But as Nonis says with a deathly serious expression: "You don't know until you actually play games."
The roster that beat Buffalo last night is, for the most part, what we'll see come opening night. So the question becomes this: After so many personnel changes, after the team was dynamited, do the 2010-11 Toronto Maple Leafs have the right chemistry?
PHOTO: TARA WALTON/TORONTO STAR