The Toronto Maple Leafs finish up their 2016 preseason schedule with a 2-4-2 record following a 4-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night.
Starting with the positives, the Leafs dictated the tempo for significant spells of the game, outshooting the Red Wings 33-22 and giving their defense too much to handle at times with their speed and skill. After showing their youth against Montreal, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews bounced back with strong performances in a game played at regular season pace against a regular season lineup. Both of Matthews’ and Marner’s lines look to be building some chemistry heading into the new year.
On the other side of the coin, the Leafs defense was not up to snuff at times – missed assignments and turnovers again ruled the day. The defense is going to be a work in progress no matter how the pairings stack up, but it remains to be seen if the current mix is the right one. In net, the second 60-minute appearance of the preseason for Frederik Andersen could have been a more confidence-inspiring tune-up performance, if you believe in reading into such games.
Some sporadic notes:
– Frederik Andersen‘s game tonight is maybe best filed under the category of, “not his fault, but he didn’t come up with an important save, either.” He wasn’t solely or even mostly to blame for any of the goals, but a goalie of his ilk expects to come up with a save or two along the way. The timing looks like it’s still coming along following the injury. Petr Mrazek was excellent at the other end and the difference swung the game.
– Some fantastic work down low from Auston Matthews at different times in the game – at one point, he extricated the puck out of a crowd of three Red Wings behind the goal line. His line with Hyman and Nylander is looking like it has the right mix of ‘heaviness,’ pace, and skill. Some dominant shifts from that trio had the Red Wings D in fits trying to break their cycle, or break the puck out against the pressure of their forecheck. Matthews looked to have scored Zach Hyman’s goal that actually went in off a defenceman’s skate, but he did all the right things in making it happen, gathering speed through the neutral zone, laying the puck off to Hyman out wide, and driving the far post. A team-leading five shots on goal and two assists to cap off preseason for Matthews.
– Another tough night at the office for Matt Hunwick. He wasn’t making the right decisions quickly enough with the puck, and several times failed to identify backside pressure until it was too late. He had to wear two goals against tonight after turnovers in his own end. Babcock played him the least of any of his defencemen tonight, which is telling of the performance level given he played Hunwick the second most of any Leafs defenceman on average last season.
– Zach Hyman provides the Leafs with an additional Komarov dynamic in their top nine: Great motor, puck retrieval ability, fearlessness in the dirty areas of the ice, and an ability to think and play the game at a high enough pace to play alongside high-end skill. He doesn’t have Leo’s super-pest quality, but he’s drawn reactions out of defencemen the past few games through driving the net, parking himself in front of goalies, and digging until the whistle. He even dropped the gloves in this one, although it was a forgettable bout. He’s been the right workhorse complement for Nylander and Matthews, helping create space and doing the little things that help ensure they’re playing with the puck more often than not.
– Mitch Marner was the Leafs’ best player for much of the game — creative while almost always making the right decision with the puck. The skill set is obvious and he’s got the work ethic to match it away from the puck. He was unlucky on a bouncing disc or he would’ve broken his goals goose egg in preseason after jumping on a turnover in neutral ice and going on a rush with JVR. He may have had a multitude of goals in preseason if his shot packed just that little bit of extra zing. While his release is quick and he’s adept at disguising his release points and changing his shooting angles, he’ll need to continue adding power to beat NHL goalies cleanly with regularity. He showed big hustle with a long backcheck at the end of his shift in the second period, breaking up a dangerous pass in the low slot. The chemistry looks to be forming with JVR and Bozak, although Marner showed more urgency to his game than his veteran linemates did – not unexpected as he has more to prove in preseason.
– Tonight’s TOI leader, with three minutes more than the next-highest Jake Gardiner: 23:26 for Connor Carrick, who recorded an assist and was a plus-two on the night.
– Connor Brown showed good jump off the fourth line for the second game in a row; he’s moving better than he was earlier in preseason and looked more like himself puck-hounding on the forecheck and backcheck. His pressure up ice off a dump-in, and presence in the crease, helped create the 3-3 goal. He did have to take part ownership over the Wings’ 4-3 game winner; it wasn’t a firm enough play up the wall by Martin Marincin, but Brown flew the zone early. Has he done enough to lock down the 4th line RW spot for opening night? When Kadri enters the lineup, Holland will shift to either 4C or 4RW. If Laich is Babcock’s 4C on opening night, that leaves a choice between Holland and Brown for the final wing spot. If Babcock saw enough from Holland at center ice this camp to keep him there for game #1, the choice becomes Laich or Brown.
Game in Six
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Detroit Red Wings Game Sheet - October 8
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