The Toronto Maple Leafs picked up their first win of preseason over a Buffalo Sabres team light on NHL regulars on Friday night.
Player notes, post-game quotes, and game highlights below.
Ilya Mikheyev – After a slow start, similar to his first preseason showing, the KHL import really picked it up as he settled into the game. He looked respectable on the penalty kill — he appears to start/stop and cover ice well, cutting off the tops effectively with his reach. He mixed in a shot block as well. There is a lot of evaluating to do still, but it would be nice if he could take on a secondary role there.
Mikheyev looks more and more like a lock for opening night — a rangy guy with skill, pace and the ability to puck protect/extend cycles is a player type the Leafs don’t have anywhere else on the wings (and looking at his KHL reel, hopefully a scoring touch reveals itself in time). He uses his length well to take away time and space on the forecheck. Mike Babcock will love this:
Kenny Agostino – He played with a really good motor throughout the game and flashed a little craftiness with the puck. He established the forecheck well, finished plenty of checks, went hard to the net, and created opportunities for himself and his linemates in doing so. There were lots of second/third efforts on display in Agostino’s puck battles along the walls.
This is a premature statement — such is the nature of post-game breakdowns in the preseason — but the Leafs need more of this kind of graft from down the lineup than they’ll get out of a Nic Petan or Pontus Aberg. No offense to either player — both are perfectly fine players with decent skill sets — but they feel redundant on this team. The Leafs have plenty of players who can make a skilled play in open ice; they need more committed, skilled-enough diggers who open space and make life hard on opposition defenders. Agostino might be able to help here.
There is lots of time to change minds, of course — for all of the above players. If he forces them to, the Leafs could shift Trevor Moore to the RW and make room for Agostino down the left if we assume it’s Johnsson, Kapanen, Mikheyev in the top-nine LW spots to start. We’ll see, though.
Matt Read — He has the skill and smarts of a former 20+ goal guy, and he finished nicely on his third-period goal, but his legs don’t get him to spots on time; there was a noticeable occasion where he dished off crossing the blue line in a 2v2 situation and just couldn’t come close to gaining an edge on the defender in the foot race to the back post. He was behind the pace tracking back and closing down the points. This is going to be a very hard team to make — we’ll leave it there for now.
Rasmus Sandin — I have few doubts he could play in the league right now and that it would be worth his while and the Leafs’ while if he were to do so. We’ll see what the Leafs decide on for the development plan here and whether the business side factors into the final decision due to cap and waiver considerations.
You don’t need me to repeat the obvious about his poise, intelligence and ability to make the right play so consistently. What has also becoming easy to appreciate about Sandin is how disruptive he is defensively and how hard he works to establish inside positioning and get underneath opposition sticks for lifts/pokes. He’s pretty smart with his body positioning in front on box-outs, hooking a leg inside and getting into a low crouch to neutralize larger attackers.
Sandin reads and reacts to situations well all over the ice. This is a broken play developing for the Leafs in the neutral zone, and Sandin supports the rush in a good position, sees it unfolding, and surges through the gap to win the race and continue the rush into the offensive zone.
This was another great sequence from him below that starts with a sharp turn up ice + first pass and ends with a slap-pass across the slot that was nearly converted by Nylander.
Alex Kerfoot – He’s still getting his feet under him at center on a new team, so we’ll hold off on any comment until he does, but he’s going to need to sharpen up in the faceoff circle — he went 33% and had some clean losses in there. He won just 29% in the game against Ottawa as well.
Nick Shore/Tyler Gaudet – I’ll group these two together in that they appear to be on the outside looking in based on the lines they’ve skated on in camp and preseason so far, but they both have good size to them, can get around the rink, battle, and protect a puck. We’ll see if between Goat, Shore and Gaudet — I personally see Spezza as more of a winger just based on what Babcock will want in a checking-center role (crease to crease) — if the Leafs have a capable 4c here on the cheap; only Shore has a track record of reasonable 4c production in the league, so I’m looking forward to more viewings there.
William Nylander – He could’ve/should’ve had a hat trick. Dominant on the puck all night… Gorgeous feed to Matthews for his goal… Six shots on goal… You get the picture. It would’ve been nice to see one go in for him, but he’s not looking like a player who’s worried about when his next scoring chance is going to come. Mission accomplished so far in preseason for Willy. His line with Matthews and Johnsson simply had its way with a weak Buffalo team.
Mike Babcock Post Game: Leafs 3 vs. Sabres 0
On the Matthews line:
I thought they were good. Willy might’ve had the puck as much tonight as he had last year, so… I’m not kidding. He’s got to be feeling good about himself. Obviously, they’re two guys that you knew that was not going to be an issue. But it was good for Willy to feel good. I thought he played real well. That line was good. It was dominant. It had the puck a lot.
On whether Rasmus Sandin was even better than on Wednesday:
I don’t know. I think he is like that every night. To me, he is just smart and simple and knows how to play and just seems to be comfortable all the time. It doesn’t seem to matter what level he is at.
On whether Sandin is better on the left or the right:
I think [Marincin] can play that spot. If he’s playing with Harps, he should probably play on the right. But it didn’t seem to make any difference to him.
On Ilya Mikheyev:
He’s still trying to figure out the size of the rink. Each game that he’s played, he wasn’t quite as good in the first but he’s gotten better and better. As you can see, he can really skate. He’s very intelligent. He’s heavy on the puck. He can shoot it and make plays. Exhibition is important for him. Figure out the size of the rink.
On whether he has more clarity about who is taking jobs:
Oh yeah. They clear themselves up. After tomorrow, we’re halfway through and we’ll have a better handle. The separation between our guys and other guys grows every day. The players that are going to end up playing here — they’re just going to end up separating themselves.