While such assessments are always a moving target — particularly in a city where each victory or loss is hyper-analyzed — the Maple Leafs’ next two games will provide a much clearer indication of how good this team really is.
After jumping out of the gate with wins over Montreal and Ottawa, the Leafs face their first two road tests of the season, in the Penguins’ new arena at Pittsburgh tonight and at New York against the Rangers Friday.
Even Toronto coach Ron Wilson isn’t certain what he has.
“The first game, we weren’t great. The second game, we played really well. We probably lie somewhere in between,” Wilson said in assessing his team’s start. “These will be two interesting tests for us.”
Not only will the Leafs be pushed by two good clubs but they are expected to give goaltender Jonas Gustavsson his first start of the season in one of those games, almost certainly against the Rangers. Brett Lebda, a defenceman who signed on as a free agent, may also make his Leafs debut that night.
Fans will also see how the Leafs fare in games in which they don’t have the last line change, meaning it will be tougher to get Tim Brent’s hard-working checking unit out against the likes of Sidney Crosby and company. Wilson, though, is more inclined to focus on keeping his shutdown defensive pairing of Francois Beauchemin and Dion Phaneuf out against an opponent’s top line.
Pittsburgh, with Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the first power-play unit, will also provide a challenge for Toronto’s penalty killers, who have been perfect through their first two games.