It was another offensive outburst and further special teams dominance in the Maple Leafs’ last preseason game with their real lineup, a 6-2 win over Detroit that moves them to 6-1-0 in the exhibition season.
As much as the team hasn’t been dominating the opposition at 5v5 in the exhibitions, the Leafs are playing with the swagger of a team that knows it can flip the switch at any time and score at will.
Ray Ferraro was talking about 100 power play goals and 300 goals worth of total offense as attainable targets on the broadcast, such has been the team’s offensive prowess when it’s iced its near-full NHL lineup (still missing its third-leading points scorer from last season) in the preseason.
— MLHS (@LeafsNews) September 29, 2018
They're doing The Wave. They've chanted We Want The Cup here at the SBA. Exhibition hockey was never this much fun at the ACC. #Leafs
— Kevin McGran (@kevin_mcgran) September 29, 2018
The hype, it’s safe to say, is already at a fever pitch. Bring on the real games.
#34 Auston Matthews – He wasn’t at his best at 5v5, but there were plenty of moments of brilliance, including two beautiful assists. The line is clearly in a holding pattern until Nylander is signed and they can start to feast on other teams in transition. Matthews turned away and hardly even looked after delivering the pass on Tavares’ tape on the 5-on-3 power play. That unit has some serious swagger already and it’ll be a thrill ride to see what heights it can reach this season.
#63 Tyler Ennis – He’s tasked with carrying the puck a lot and receiving plays on his backhand, so it’s not a comfortable spot for him, but he had some nice moments and nearly set up Matthews for a pretty one-time goal. He’s in the lineup if Nylander isn’t there on October 3rd, but it’s an interesting decision between him and Leivo if Nylander is back.
#12 Patrick Marleau – He was involved in a number of physical confrontations which saw him bowl over players trying to body him — in one instance, Abdelkader looked like the skinny kid in an exercise ball collision. A goal (power play), an assist and three shots on goal. Looks ready to hit the ground running in the regular season.
#24 Kasperi Kapanen – Looked better up with the Tavares / Marner, as you would expect. Didn’t get PP time tonight, which was curious. Effective, as usual, pressuring the puck up ice on the PK, which is a clear point of emphasis for the Leafs’ shorthanded units — to defend proactively up the ice with high puck pressure in the o-zone. Kapanen, Marner and Tavares have a clear directive to get in on the forecheck and to aggressively disrupt the power play breakouts further up the ice.
#91 John Tavares – Ramping up into regular season form. Hard work all over the ice with nice plays back and forth to Marner. Great one-time clapper on the PP. His ability to recover pucks down low, and his versatility to rotate around and set up for a one-timer, is an added dimension JVR did not bring to the power play, as good as he was in the net-front role.
#16 Mitch Marner – Magic Mitch ran the show tonight at 5v5, on the PP, and on the PK. Lead the team in ice time and was a dominant force, just like the last game versus the Canadiens. His creativity and constant-motion footwork were on display for all to see. Detroit didn’t have an answer for his play – something we’ll see on a lot of nights this season.
#32 Josh Leivo – For a player that is fighting to make the team, he couldn’t have acquitted himself any better tonight. He was on the puck a lot and wiring shots. He looked like a confident, top-nine NHLer. Nice power-play assist on the Gardiner goal as part of a three-point night. Has he done enough to earn an opening night spot, with or without Nylander?
#43 Nazem Kadri – Nasty Naz came out to play and was on the body early. He was rewarded for a nice, low, d-zone curl that helped the play up the ice and he was the beneficiary of the pass from Leivo – to Brown – to him followed by a great move through the defensive triangle. Babcock experimented with Kadri playing on the left side of the Tavares-Marner duo following a penalty kill, which was predictably dominant. Didn’t play a ton overall – 13 minutes — but saw 3:36 on the PP and was effective almost all night.
#28 Connor Brown – He’s been a mostly invisible player 5v5 throughout preseason, but the line alongside Kadri and Leivo had its best outing so far and he was more involved. He set up the Lindholm goal shorthanded and also picked up a nice assist on the Kadri goal. He’ll need to initiate body contact a little more and be more of a contributor that way for the team once the real games start given he’s frankly a fourth-line talent relative to the pecking order of this Leafs roster.
#18 Andreas Johnsson – Didn’t jump off the page again tonight, but he made a nice play on the Patrick Marleau goal to bump a pass out to Leivo in space. He also orchestrated some nice entries on the power play, with that second unit looking sharp throughout and cashing in twice. Only played 11:50, 3:25 of which was on the PP.
#26 Par Lindholm – Some nice defensive stops. Certainly not a perfect player, but you can see improvement game-to-game (he was much better positionally on the penalty kill) and it will be interesting to track how (if) he rounds into form during the regular season. Got himself a goal — one that should have been stopped, but it’s always good for a newcomer to get the monkey off his back.
#33 Frederik Gauthier – Goat looked slow out there and seemed to be zigging when he should have been zagging a lot — chip and chase, lose the puck, chase the guy the wrong way around the net. Gauthier requires waivers; now we see if he can sneak through.
#44 Morgan Rielly – It’s hard to get a read on Rielly’s game at the moment. He’s certainly skating well and you could see he was feeling the offensive pressure going forward throughout the game. But Hainsey’s slow preseason has contributed to/exacerbated Rielly’s own struggles in exhibition and there is some cause for concern about the state of this pairing. No PK time tonight, but he played nearly a full three minutes of power play time and looked good distributing the puck at the top of the umbrella.
#2 Ron Hainsey – Veterans deserve some benefit of the doubt in preseason, but if this has been any indication of what’s to come when the season starts, it would behoove Babcock to think about alternative options on the top pair. He’s playing slowly right now and it’s dragging his whole line down. Looks great on the PK, as usual.
#51 Jake Gardiner – He was feeling it tonight. Two goals and lots of PP time. He and Zaitsev look closer to what they looked like at the start of the season last year. We’re finally seeing some timing and chemistry in their own zone again. We’ll see if it translates in games that matter.
#22 Nikita Zaitsev – A pretty steady game from Zaitsev. He’s got part of his confidence back after a bad end to last season and is making plays where he was bailing out last year; it remains to be seen if he can carry it over into the regular season. Played a ton on the penalty kill — 4:20 — which topped the team.
#23 Travis Dermott – Played nearly 20 minutes tonight, including 3:25 on the penalty kill — second on the Leafs defense core only to Gardiner. There were some nice flashes of his breakout moves to throw off forecheckers. Babcock gave him a positive review after the game. He’s got the bottom-pairing spot locked down.
#92 Igor Ozhighanov – Starting to make plays and figure out the style the Leafs play – a style that puts a lot of pressure on the D to make high-skilled plays and passes in the 80-120ft range each shift. It can be quite the high-wire act. Babcock gave him some time on the power play(!) and penalty kill. He played 19:25 in what was an opportunity for Babcock to experiment with bubble players experiencing bigger minutes higher in the lineup (Ozhiganov, Dermott and Leivo). It looks like he’s sewn up the opening night spot — not necessarily through his own excellent play, but Babcock’s preference for some size on the backend and the lack of push through from Justin Holl and Connor Carrick in preseason.