Preseason Game 45 – Maple Leafs 5, Canadiens 1

Preseason Game 45
Maple Leafs 5, Canadiens 1
Friday, September 22, 2006
Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ontario

Head coach Paul Maurice thinks he’s found a winning unit with Kyle Wellwood playing on Mats Sundin’s right wing.

That suits Wellwood, generally a centre, just fine.

The pair made an explosive combination on the power play and at even strength in Toronto’s 5-1 win over the Montréal Canadiens last night before 18,980 at the Air Canada Centre.

“I’m not assuming anything,” said Wellwood, who got two assists for an evening of setting up scoring opportunities. “Tonight was my first full game on the wing in my career and I thought it went pretty well.

“I was comfortable on the wing. I don’t know how long it will last, but I definitely enjoyed it.”

Sundin had a goal and two assists, with Darcy Tucker, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Aleksander Suglobov also scoring.

With Sundin getting most of the ice time and Mike Peca expected to play against the other team’s best centres, there’s not a lot of ice time left for third- and fourth-line centres.

Consider Wellwood’s assignment an audition for the prime real estate on Sundin’s wing, one that makes sense to Maurice, who wants to get Wellwood’s hockey smarts as much ice time as possible.

“I really like how smart Kyle is; he’s a very gifted thinker on the ice,” said Maurice. “He’s capable of getting the puck to Mats. That’s important (but) we’re hoping he’s not always looking to get the puck to Mats, that’s the difference.”

Maurice said too many wingers make the mistake of forcing the puck to Sundin, even if the captain is not open, or without looking at others on the ice, or simply keeping the puck to set up a pass a few seconds later.

“There’s a confidence in the player to not pass the puck to Mats,” said Maurice. “It’s the hands and the head, choosing the time to make the pass. That’s the playmaker.”

Tucker played the left side on the power play, scoring the first goal on a cross-crease pass from Wellwood. Sundin also scored on the power play, three minutes after Tucker, as the Leafs jumped to a 2-0 lead.

Ponikarovsky played the left side 5 on 5, scoring late in the third, with assists to Sundin and Wellwood.

The unit had energy and dominated Montréal early. There were scoring chances just about every time they were together, especially on the power play, where defenceman Ian White took Tomas Kaberle’s spot alongside Bryan McCabe.

“The power play is really an important aspect of the game now,” said Wellwood. “That’s the focus, to have the same power play success as last year.”

The power play scored 107 goals last year and Maurice said he’ll let the unit work on its game on its own, while he coaches 5 on 5 and penalty killing strategy.

Leaf goalie Jean-Sébastien Aubin gave a strong performance in net, stopping 22 of 23 Montréal shots while playing all 60 minutes.

Both Aubin and Tellqvist put in stellar efforts so far in their bid to become Andrew Raycroft’s backup.

“These are real pressure games for those two,” said Maurice.

“We’re very pleased they were able to handle that pressure.”

The Leafs’ already thinning blue line suffered another loss when Staffan Kronwall fell awkwardly into the boards early in the first period.

He limped to the bench as the play went on but didn’t return.

Maurice said Kronwall suffered “a sprain or a strain, I’m not sure of the difference.”

Story originally published in The Toronto Star, September 23, 2006

1st Period
MTL PEN – 00:16 – Downey, roughing
TOR PP GOAL – 02:17 – Tucker (Wellwood, Sundin)
MTL PEN – 02:38 – Latendresse, holding
TOR PP GOAL – 03:06 – Sundin
MTL PEN – 03:30 – Ferland, tripping
TOR PEN – 04:55 – Stajan, hooking
MTL PEN – 12:25 – Rivet, holding
MTL GOAL – 14:54 – Ferland (Jancevski, Perezhogin)
MTL PEN – 18:50 – Rivet, tripping

2nd Period
MTL PEN – 01:37 – Ryder, interference
TOR GOAL – 06:48 – Pohl (Leeb, Wozniewski)
TOR PEN – 09:30 – Pohl, interference
MTL PEN – 14:26 – Groulx, delay of game
TOR PEN – 15:43 – McCabe, holding

3rd Period
TOR PEN – 03:44 – McCabe, cross checking
TOR PEN – 06:26 – Ponikarovsky, high sticking
MTL PEN – 09:51 – Kovalev, slashing
TOR GOAL – 14:39 – Suglobov (Newbury)
TOR GOAL – 16:34 – Ponikarovsky (Sundin, Wellwood)

TOR – Aubin (W, 22-23)
MTL – Danis (L, 13-16), Halak (9-11)

TOR – 7+9+11 = 27
MTL – 9+7+7 = 23

TORGoaltenders: Jean-Sébastien Aubin, Mikael Tellqvist. Defence: Brendan Bell, Jay Harrison, Staffan Kronwall, Bryan McCabe, Ian White, Andrew Wozniewski. Forwards: Bates Battaglia, Brad Leeb, Kris Newbury, Jeff O’Neill, John Pohl, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Matt Stajan, Alexander Steen, Alexander Suglobov, Mats Sundin, Darcy Tucker, Kyle Wellwood.
MTLGoaltenders: Yann Danis, Jaroslav Halak. Defence: Mathieu Dandenault, Danny Groulx, Dan Jancevski, Mike Komisarek, Andrei Markov, Craig Rivet. Forwards: Steve Bégin, Radek Bonk, Aaron Downey, Jonathan Ferland, Alex Kovalev, Guillaume Latendresse, Corey Locke, Alexander Perezhogin, Tomas Plekanec, Mike Ribeiro, Michael Ryder, Sergei Samsonov.