His mere presence inspires winning. Mike Babcock steps foot in the building and the Maple Leafs put up an eight-burger against the Buffalo Sabres in their first win of the 2016 preseason.

The offensive explosion came against a not half-bad Sabres lineup featuring Brian Gionta, Sam Reinhart, Dmitry Kulikov, Tyler Ennis, Zemgus Girgensons, Matt Moulson and Jake McCabe among the NHL regulars.

Jim Hiller will certainly be satisfied with his team’s ability to generate traffic and funnel pucks to the net front in this game. The Leafs generated five goals from point shots alone – two off the stick of Matt Hunwick, who matched his 2015-16 goals output in a single 13-second span in preseason.

There was lots to be excited while watching this game in terms of the young talent in this organization, and Auston Matthews wasn’t even playing. Not all of them played their best games, but the collective skill level is readily apparent with all of Marner, Nylander, Brown, Timashov and Kapanen in the lineup.

With only a couple of forward spots available and one spot open in the Leafs’ top seven on defense, Leafs brass is going to have some tough decisions to make. Peter Holland, Frank Corrado and Connor Carrick all stated their case as they battle for spots. Mitch Marner, meanwhile, continues to decisively win his battle against the idea that he’s still not quite ready for prime time.

On to the player notes.

Player Notes

Peter Holland – Holland could have easily had a four goal night instead of two tonight if he had elevated the puck on a couple of his backdoor chances, but his tipped goal in the third period was well taken. He was playing well on a line with Tyler Bozak and Mitch Marner and generated 7 shots, which is remarkable. Holland’s desperation level was high, as it should be right now. He’s arguably on the outside looking in for a spot on the team, so regular season for him starts now. 

Mitch Marner – There was certainly a great deal of urgency to Mitch’s game. Two assists on the night (that’s four points through two preseason games now), and he made some beautiful plays that Holland couldn’t finish off. There were lots of little things to like about his defensive game; he was routinely the first forward back and was dogged in his puck pursuit. Marner’s skating has taken off to another level compared to how he finished in the Memorial Cup; he clearly had a productive summer. He’s always been a quick player, but it’s safe to call him fast now. He can also stop on a dime, which creates a lot of space to pull up and make plays. He did an excellent job sucking defenders in and laying off the puck to teammates in space. That type of skillset makes everyone around him better. His confidence is at a much higher level compared to where he was 12 months ago. He’s ready to make an impact and has all but made the team. 

Frederik Gauthier – The slow, steady, game-over-game improvement with Gauthier continues. The puck was following him around the ice offensively and defensively, he always seems to make the right decision, and he is usually thinking one or two steps ahead. His improved skills are noticeable; while Leafs management’s program for him likely means a return to the Marlies this year, where he can play higher in the lineup with more ice time and responsibility, this is a player who could probably play in the NHL right now. He is arguably the best option the Leafs have at center for the 4th line — a line of Martin-Gauthier-Hyman has the makings of a competent bottom line.

Dmytro Timashov – Quietly really effective, he had a nice assist on the Nielsen shot that was tipped home by Clune. The coaching staff felt comfortable with him running the power play after the game was out of reach. Players like him, with a stature that small, can really have an impact on the PP halfwall. Being able to pivot in the blink of an eye allows a player to put the puck down to the goal line or back up to the point, or to send a pass through a cross-seam to a player open on the weak side. He didn’t look out of place there. He can really handle the puck.

Connor Carrick – A good showing from him tonight. He playing with a good bit of jam to his game, which is something that he needs to show the coaching staff as an undersized defenceman, and he was making all sorts of great things happen offensively. 6(!) shots on goal.

Frank Corrado – 3 assists, +5 with 3 shots on net after a goal in his preseason debut, Corrado is letting everyone know he shouldn’t be written off in the battle for a spot on the right side in the Leafs’ top seven D. He was jumping up into the play offensively, pinching aggressively and smartly, and sent a nice fake shot-pass to Holland on the doorstep for Holland’s first goal. 

Connor Brown – You have to appreciate his work ethic. He’s certainly bulked up compared to last Fall, and you have to wonder if it’s hindered his quickness a bit, but it’s too small of a sample to tell. Good showing tonight overall.

Rich Clune – Good game from Rich Clune. He knows his role and he doesn’t try to overextend himself. For someone that is almost exclusively a fighter, Clune can take a regular shift no problem, and chip in some offence from time-to-time. He kept up with the pace of play far better than Prust.

Andrew Nielsen – Another strong outing for Nielsen, who was moving the puck well and getting shots through (4!), which is a real knack of his. He ended up with an assist on the Clune tip. There is lots to like about his camp from the rookie tournament onward and he could be a difference maker with the Marlies this season.

Kasperi Kapanen – Great goal – a total cannon. This was a good game for him despite limited minutes and limited skill on his line with Brooks Laich and Brandon Prust.

Jhonas Enroth – Faced very limited action with just nine shots against overall. You’d like to see him be a little firmer on his post on the one Buffalo goal, but no Leaf did their job on that play in terms of taking away sticks or clearing bodies. Antoine Bibeau fared far better than in his preseason debut, which was a bit of a trainwreck, in the second half of the game.

Game in Six

Leafs 8 vs. Sabres 1 – Boxscore


Jim Hiller Post Game

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Alec Brownscombe is the founder and editor of, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He's published five magazines on the team entitled "The Maple Leafs Annual" with distribution in Chapters and newsstands across the country. He also co-hosted "The Battle of the Atlantic," a weekly show on TSN1200 that covered the Leafs and the NHL in-depth. Alec is a graduate of Trent University and Algonquin College with his diploma in Journalism. In 2014, he was awarded Canada's Best Hockey Blogger honours by Molson Canadian. You can contact him at