Roster spots grow slim as Leafs preseason continues

As Toronto donned their jerseys for their fourth game of the 2010-11 preseason against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Maple Leafs iced a surprisingly strong lineup.

Typically, NHL teams will allow rookies to fill roster spots, giving junior players bragging rights before being sent back to their junior teams, and giving the older kids a second look before deciding the final roster.

Instead of following the cookie-cutter preseason routine used by a plethora of NHL clubs,  the Leafs regulars were out in full force Friday night, as team administration and coaching staff wanted a good look at the potential opening night roster.

The  4-3 shootout loss against the Flyers was the first tryout for the Leafs possible first line of Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Kris Versteeg.

The trio made head coach Ron Wilson’s job look easy, as the chemistry was apparent from the get-go.

In a scoreless first period, the line looked as if they were warming up well, seeing time in every imaginable offensive combination, from even strength, to power play and four-on-four.

And the chances were there.

As the Flyers’ Matt Clackson headed to the box for goaltender interference, the first line took to the ice and showed great patience, nearly netting a goal as Versteeg missed a well-placed stretch pass from Bozak.

In the second period, it clicked.

Again on the power play, Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton was unable to control a Dion Phaneuf point shot, and as Bozak and Versteeg hacked away in front, the rebound landed on the stick of a well-placed Versteeg and the Cup champion potted his first goal as a member of the blue and white.

The trio saw time with various defensive pairings, but looked at their best when Phaneuf and Tomas Kaberle were manning the point.

Kaberle’s puck-moving ability and Phaneuf’s shot complemented the speed and control of the young trio.

These five players clicked again in the third period, with Phaneuf blasting a howitzer from the point that squeaked through the pads of Leighton, with assists going to Kaberle and Versteeg.

So, to say that this line clicked in their first game together is an understatement. Coach Wilson agrees.

“They had lots of scoring opportunities,” said Wilson.

“The power play looked good, with those guys on the ice, very sharp.”

The coach is pleased, so look to see this fivesome sharing the ice during the regular season.

Who is the right enforcer?

As Jay Rosehill found himself in a few tussles with his teammates during training camp, one has to wonder what would motivate a player to fight a player wearing the same colour jersey as him?

The answer could be job competition.

On any given NHL club, the number of roster spots open for an offensively-limited fighter is slim. Few teams seem to have more than one goon because they oftentimes have limited upside.

For tonight’s game against the Flyers, Rosehill was out of the lineup and incumbent bruiser Colton Orr was in.

So based on the first four preseason tilts, who is the better enforcer?

In his first three games, Rosehill was a defensive liability, posting a -2 rating while being held pointless.

Based solely on tonight’s outing, it appears that Orr has the edge.

Orr seems to have more offensive upside, as he had a brilliant first-period breakaway chance stolen away from him by the left pad of goaltender Leighton.

Flyers enforcer Dan Carcillo tried to get under Orr’s skin in the first and second periods, but Orr remained calm and focused on the play.

Orr factored into the Leafs’ second goal of the night, sharing a temporary line with Kessel and Wayne Primeau. He registered an assist on the play, which should be proof enough that he has superior offensive skills to those of Rosehill, giving him the enforcer edge on the 2010-11 Leafs roster.