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Leafs-Flyers show why early exhibition play should be taken with a grain of salt

The Canadian Press
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Toronto Maple Leafs Cody Franson (right) battles for the puck with Philadelphia Flyers Harry Zolnierczyk during third period pre-season NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday September 20, 2011.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young Author: The Hockey News

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Leafs-Flyers show why early exhibition play should be taken with a grain of salt

The Canadian Press
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TORONTO - In Ron Wilson's mind, the part of training camp that amounts to "B.S." is pretty much over.

The Toronto Maple Leafs coach used that term last week to describe the period where NHL teams carry a massive amount of players just to withstand the rigours of a busy exhibition schedule.

Wilson expects to cut his roster from 70 to roughly 40 prior to flying to Philadelphia on Wednesday for Toronto's second straight pre-season game against the Flyers and third in as many nights overall. The Maple Leafs coach makes no secret of his disdain for the steady stream of exhibition games, which was evidenced by his lack of concern over a lacklustre 4-0 loss on Tuesday.

"We've got to get some of our veterans a little more focus and attention on the details," said Wilson. "It will work if they apply themselves a little bit more. Tonight we didn't really get that."

If he gets it on Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center, it will largely be coming from a different group of veterans.

The back-to-back games between Toronto and Philadelphia offer a good reminder of why pre-season results need to be taken with a grain of salt, particularly those that come this early on. The Flyers only dressed 10 players Tuesday that are officially considered "veterans"—as per the CBA, each team must have at least eight—and didn't bring Ilya Bryzgalov, Jaromir Jagr, Claude Giroux or Danny Briere to Air Canada Centre.

Similarly, the Leafs used just 12 players that fall under that category and Wilson indicated only a "couple" of them would be asked to play again Wednesday, including defenceman Luke Schenn.

While it isn't difficult to find someone treating these games like Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final—Leafs forward Greg Scott finally saw his first NHL exhibition action Tuesday during his fourth training camp—it's much easier to find players who've essentially forgotten about them as soon as they're done.

"It's pretty far off (the regular season) to be honest," said Leafs forward Nazem Kadri. "It's obviously not as structured and not as systematically perfect as a regular season game. A lot of mistakes you see out there from being overly aggressive would definitely not happen in the regular season.

"This is what pre-season is for, to work out all the kinks."

The level of urgency will pick up as the number of players in camp is cut down and both teams get through their current stretch. The Leafs are on a run of five games in six nights this week while Philadelphia is playing four in four.

At this point, games using a variety of different rosters is actually more manageable than simply holding a practice.

"We have 55 people in camp right now," said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette. "We've got enough bodies to go around. There's people we want to look at, there's a lot of these young kids that will take as many games as we want to give them to show what they can do.

"I actually think it's not a bad thing. Practice gets old—the best way to evaluate and get into game shape is play the games."

If there's one positive for the players, it's a level of understanding and patience that will soon be gone.

When asked about an error that led to a short-handed breakaway against the Leafs on Tuesday night, Wilson responded: "In fairness, those guys only practised for 10 minutes together on the power play."

When was the last time a coach said that during the regular season?

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Leafs-Flyers show why early exhibition play should be taken with a grain of salt