The Toronto Maple Leafs remain undefeated in preseason after a 3-2 victory over the stronger half of the Buffalo Sabres split squad on Saturday night.
The Leafs are expected to announce a big round of cuts in the next few days — possibly after the Montreal game on Monday — as the team will pare down the roster to something closer to the final group and get their full power play and penalty killing units playing together in the second half of the eight-game exhibition schedule.
Patrick Marleau – Great one-touch pass to Ennis that led to the Matthews goal. He couldn’t quite bury on his shorthanded breakaway chance after stripping the Sabres defenseman at the blue line and taking off in alone. Still as explosive as ever now entering his age-39 season. The line looks reasonably effective so far, although Nylander will tie the whole thing together when he’s back. Matthews likes to lay the puck off, explode through the neutral zone, and get the puck back inside the offensive blue line. Marleau doesn’t carry the puck all that much through neutral ice. Nylander will really help make this line go.
Auston Matthews – One heck of a finish with the wedge-style redirect after getting on the end of a wobbly cross-ice pass from Tyler Ennis. He could’ve had a couple of more, as he was ripping shots on net or just wide early and often. Skating really well in preseason, as has been noted. Looks ready to go.
Tyler Ennis – Good energy to start the game. He was all over the ice. He was caved in from behind by Risto Ristolainen and came back and hacked Ristolainen’s lip up nicely as a bit of payback. He created a lot throughout the game. He has the skill to make plays on his backhand while on his offside, which makes him a credible enough stopgap if Nylander still isn’t with the team come October 3. He hasn’t been shy about playing in traffic, which has made him effective throughout his career with his ability to slip checks and cut inside on bigger defenders. Through two games, he’s done what he’s needed to do to secure an opening night spot. Nice feed on the Matthews goal to give him three points in his two primers; he took the bump pass from Marleau nicely off the wall streaking down the right wing and threaded the feed to the back post.
Andreas Johnsson – He’s not been involved in the offense much so far in preseason, but you have to keep in mind he’s playing on the projected opening-night fourth line and Babcock’s been trying to match them up against the best NHL talent in the opposing lineup in order to stress test them ahead of the real games. It’s easy to conclude that Ennis has been much better among the LW competition on the depth chart, but the quality of linemates and competition has to be considered. Babcock is giving Ennis a prime chance to show his stuff offensively while Johnsson is expected to check and play a responsible game on L4.
Par Lindholm – It’s early, but the Leafs look like they found a nice little 4C gem here. He’ll need to bear down more on his defensive zone draws. Otherwise, he’s covering the ice and steering play well. He’s smart defensively and he’s able to make plays. He was 6 for 11 on the dot overall, but 1 for 5 in the d-zone with some clean losses among them.
Kasperi Kapanen – Tough sledding up against the Sabres top line. Even though the puck didn’t go up the ice as easily as they would have liked, they were able to at least tread water against a good NHL line in the Eichel and Skinner unit.
Carl Grundstrom – It’s been a quiet preseason so far for Grundstrom. He did have a 2-on-1 late in the game after chipping the puck past a pinching Sabres defenseman, but he fired a forgettable shot into the side of the net. It’s easy to forget he’s still 20 for another few months. Consistent time with the Marlies and the team’s development staffs is in order; being able to participate in Leafs and then Marlies camps and spend a sustained period in the AHL right from the start of the year should be good for him, as opposed to joining the team at the end of a Swedish league season + playoffs as he has the past two seasons. The Leafs brass will want to see him dominate that level before he’s on the big club’s radar.
Trevor Moore – A better showing for Moore in his second game; more engaged in his one-on-one battles and he showed the hustle we saw last year on the Marlies, specifically in the playoffs. He was diligent over 200-feet and hounded the puck carrier well coming back. Earned a nod from Babcock after the game.
Emerson Clark – Another good showing for Clark, who was tenacious on the forecheck and obviously embraces physical confrontation. He’s playing above his experience and skill level right now, but he should be an interesting add for the Marlies in an energy role. He’s taking advantage of his opportunity with the injury to Mason Marchment, who likely would’ve plugged in on the wing of this line with Brooks and Bracco if he were healthy (The “Kid Line” from last season).
Adam Brooks – He’s got an excellent motor and his skating is looking really good — specifically when backpressuring, less so with the puck on his stick. The fourth line was impactful in this game with some good energy shifts. After some time on the wing last year, the Brooks-centered fourth line really came into its own for the Marlies down the stretch and into the playoffs. Brooks has looked good down the middle in camp. This could be a line combo again for Keefe this year with the Marlies, with one of Marchment or Clark on Bracco’s opposite wing. Not unlike Connor Brown — who wasn’t an overage pick, granted, but a late pick nonetheless — he’s a hard kid to bet against; it just seems like he’s going to will his way into the NHL, someway somehow, one day.
Jeremy Bracco – A better showing from Bracco away from the puck. He was more effective jumping on loose pucks and protecting the puck, which allows his skill to shine through more. A nice tip for his goal and he was on/around the puck a fair bit throughout. It’ll be fun to monitor his development in the next year as he develops a sturdier base to work from this season and takes on more responsibility with the Marlies, followed by another pro summer next year.
Jake Gardiner – First competitive action since last April after welcoming a newborn to the world earlier this week, so we’ll hold off judgment. Interesting note: Babcock loaded him up with nearly four minutes worth of shorthanded ice time in this game. Babcock and the staff might be testing it out to see if he can play more of a role there this year with Roman Polak gone.
Calle Rosen – Scored the game winner. He’s got a heavy shot with minimal windup, an asset that suits the modern game. It really explodes off his blade without much effort. A door may have opened with the Dermott injury and it will be interesting to see him play with better players in a more organized environment. He’s not the strongest player on his skates and needs to move the puck quickly and efficiently to be at his best. If teams can get after him with some physicality, he has more difficulty than some of the other Leafs D at shaking off contact and making a clean play.
Igor Ozhiganov – Babcock used him and Rosen up against the Eichel line a fair bit to get a sense of how they might handle high-end competition (54% CF in that matchup, no goals for/against). He had some plays where he was able to eliminate players and pin them while letting his winger pick up the puck for an exit — not something often seen with Leafs D. Flashed some skill sidestepping a Sabre in the neutral zone on a mini-rush to gain the offensive blue line. Stood up for Andersen after a late jab at the puck in the crease. The game is going to get faster and faster as the preseason ramps up towards the regular season, so — as Babcock likes to say — we’ll keep watching.
Justin Holl – He wound up playing next to a new partner in Andrew Nielsen, who stepped in for Andreas Borgman. Picked up the assist on the goal by Jeremy Bracco after getting his shot through from the point (along with three additional shots on goal). He had some difficulty leaving the zone in the first but got better as the game wore on — the pairing finished top of the team in possession share to go along with the goal, for what it’s worth.
Frederik Andersen – A good workout for him, facing a fair bit of rubber with 21 shots on goal through two periods. Sam Reinhart took away his eyes entirely with a good screen on the 1-0 Kyle Okposo goal. Not much he could do on the Skinner goal.
Calvin Pickard – Don’t forget about me… a solid period from Pickard, who was confidently challenging shooters and showed good rebound control while turning aside 14 of 14 shots. He’s quiet in the net and arguably more technically sound than both Sparks and McElhinney. He’s also got a bit of an NHL resume to go on compared to Sparks. In the end, that may just make him the most marketable via trade of the three, but don’t sleep on Pickard just yet.
Tiger Woods – GOAT.