The Toronto Maple Leafs dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to the Ottawa Senators in game #5 of the 2016 preseason.
Result aside, Mike Babcock was considerably happier with the effort on display. The Leafs played fast while looking more organized than they did on Sunday night versus Montreal, carrying the play for significant portions of the game in terms of possession and shots on goal.
James van Riemsdyk – Played on a line with William Nylander and looked okay, but like many veterans in preseason, he wasn’t giving it his all. He had a couple of grade ‘A’ chances in alone that he wasn’t able to convert; a sure goal early in the third on a play with Nylander and Rielly went off the heel of his stick in tight, and he missed another easy goal off a passing play with Marner and Rielly later on.
William Nylander – Nylander again lined up at center and looked good on both sides of the puck. He sent van Riemsdyk in alone after beating two checks to make a hard play offensively. He had some quality chances of his own, dancing in at one point and missing the net short side. Defensively, he was effective in his use of stick lifts and body positioning, which will help give the coaching staff more confidence in him moving forward.
Zach Hyman – This was one of his better preseason games. He looked better with the puck on his stick, able to generate plays on his own. He’s obviously highly effective on the forecheck. He generated some nice chances on wraparounds, and was a handful for the Senators down low. The JVR-Nylander-Hyman line was dynamic and could have had two or three goals pretty easily. Hyman was a big part of the line.
Colin Greening – He didn’t look like he was able to play the type of game that Matthews and Marner wanted to play; the highly skilled interplay left him out often.
Auston Matthews – Good game from Matthews. He had a number of scoring chances and combined for some high-end puck movement with Marner. There were a number of times that the pair overcomplicated matters, something Babcock will continue to iron out.
Mitch Marner – He nearly scored 30 seconds into the game off a great combination with Matthews and Rielly, just missing while all alone in front. He looked dynamic alongside Matthews — the pair generated some highly skilled plays that only players of that ilk can create. His best chance came in the third when he was able to shake a defender and beat Anderson, only for the puck to trickle wide. As you often get with highly-skilled players, there were some glaring turnovers while pushing for offence — that sort of stuff will get ironed out of his game as he adjusts to league and learns what he can and can’t get away with.
Peter Holland – Centering a third line with Kapanen, this was Holland’s best pre-season game by far. He played at a high tempo and was determined in his board battles — sometimes an area of concern for him. His hands look quicker than in the past. Playing with the kids has perhaps brought out some new creativity in his game. Overall, he made a case for himself in the fourth line center conversation.
Kasperi Kapanen – His best pre-season showing so far. A nice catch and release for his goal, and he also hit a crossbar at one point. He was skating well and seemed to strike some quick chemistry with Holland. As is the case with Kapanen, he needs to have games like this consistently.
Trevor Moore – He didn’t get a ton of ice time, but showed some dynamism off the rush through the neutral zone. He’s an interesting prospect. He is going to need seasoning on the Marlies, but he looked like a player who could play a few NHL games this season before it’s over with.
Byron Froese – Even if you remove his goal, Froese had a strong night. It was a reminder that a fourth line natural center option may exist for the Leafs instead of defaulting to Brooks Laich, who looked behind the pace a little in this game, for the role. He was determined in his puck battles and moved the puck well alongside Trevor Moore.
Brandon Prust – Notched an assist on the Kapanen goal and a fight with Chris Neil at the start of the game, but was otherwise ineffective. He’ll probably be AHL-bound shortly.
Morgan Rielly – Dynamic all night. He set up Marner with a great feed 30 seconds into the game, and assisted on Froese’s goal with a well-placed shot-for–tip from the point.
Nikita Zaitsev – He looked like he’d previously played with Rielly, making lots of smart little plays in small areas of the ice to get out of danger. He skated well, moved the puck well, walked the line well, and was physical when he needed to be. Overall, another good outing for Zaitsev, including a second assist on the Froese goal.
Jake Gardiner – Offensively, Gardiner made some nice plays with Nylander and JVR and as well as Matthews and Marner in the odd shift together. He was caught a few times playing overly fancy, turning the puck over in some dangerous areas unnecessarily. As the game wore on, he seemed to develop some chemistry with Connor Carrick — a pairing we may see this season if Carrick can keep up his level of play.
Connor Carrick – Looked to be playing a little above his comfort level at the start of the game, but got settled in as the game wore on and played a good overall game while paired with Gardiner. Moved the puck well and was physical (with an awesome reverse hit on Ryan).
Frank Corrado – Rushed the puck well. I don’t know if he’s done enough to start the year on the Leafs, or what the plans are with Corrado, but he’s a bottom pairing right-shot option for the Leafs if they are looking for a different dynamic than what Polak can provide. Will the Leafs carry eight defencemen in order to keep him on the roster?
Frederik Andersen – Looked calm, cool, and composed. His rebound control wasn’t perfect, but we saw some signs of a valuable asset to his game — he was able to use his feet and hands to redirect shots into areas that turned them, effectively, into breakout passes. Bibeau struggled in relief, allowing two goals on three shots and overplaying his angle on both.