This post does not contain the words "Nazem Kadri"
The Leafs ventured into Ottawa last night and emerged victorious in a back-and-forth game against the Sens. This morning, everybody is talking about you-know-who.
Me, I need a break from that circus.
The regular season is officially one week away. Here are 5 reasons to be optimistic (that have nothing to do with what's-his-name):
1. Nikolai Kulemin: The guy already has five goals this pre-season, or roughly a third of what he scored in 78 games last year. He's carrying the puck the way a protective tiger carries her cub. He seems invincible to one-on-one coverage. And he has a weird intensity in his eyes that says, "I am now comfortable in your land. Prepare to be dominated."
2. Phil Kessel: This off-season, he trained like a lunatic and it shows. Nobody has ever questioned Kessel's ability to bury the puck. He is a natural sniper. But now he has stamina. He seems to have lowered his centre-of-gravity. He is getting faster as the game goes on. Kessel is the engine that will power the Leafs this season and he is now firing on all cylinders.
3. Special teams: To be competitive, your power play and penalty killing need to balance out somewhere in the 13 to 15 spots. That is, if you have the worst PK in the league, your power play better damn well be near the top. Last night, the team went 3-for-9 on the power play and shut-down all of Ottawa's five extra-man chances. Fingers crossed.
4. Mike Brown: How has this guy managed to fly under the radar for most of his career? He has blazing speed. He is a serial penalty killer. He blocks shots with unflinching fearlessness. And when things get chippy, he isn’t afraid to shove his Fu Manchu into an opponent's chin. Brown is a classic "Bottom Six" forward in the Burke-Wilson parlance. His contributions this season could be invaluable.
5. Kris Versteeg: In a previous life, it's entirely possible Versteeg was a contortionist. When controlling the play, his body seems to violate all known physical laws. And he makes things happen for everybody around him. Going into last night's game, Versteeg was tied with Pittsburgh's Mike Comrie with 17 shots on goal. He didn’t play against Ottawa. Why? He was collecting his Stanley Cup ring in Chicago. In other words, he can get it done and he knows what it takes.
What are you optimistic about?
PHOTO: DAVID COOPER/TORONTO STAR