The Toronto Maple Leafs brought an AHL roster into Montreal and picked up a 3-0 win over an NHL-calibre Canadiens squad on Monday night.
A lot of attention today focused on the makeup of the two roster groups after the Leafs split up their camp roster for this week. The Leafs did have to hit their minimum veteran requirements for this game, so while it’s safe to say those skating with the NHL group have placed themselves in a good position going into the final week of preseason, nothing is set in stone.
As much as both have played well in camp and preseason, given the team’s cap bind it’s probably not a coincidence that we’re talking about Dmytro Timashov and Frederik Gauthier (potentially) on the opening-night roster when they’re the two cheapest NHL player salaries in the entire organization ($694,000 and $675,000, respectively). With the final $10.9 million number on Mitch Marner, the Leafs are counting their cap pennies and the difference of a couple hundred thousand on a player contract could be a deciding factor in some of the tight camp battles currently underway.
In any event, Leafs brass put together an AHL lineup plus a few bubble players for tonight’s game, looking to test the mettle of some of the bubble candidates and fringe players on the camp roster. They responded with a good effort and played some desperate hockey, outworking a far more talented, NHL regular-heavy Montreal Canadiens team.
Yegor Korshkov — Well, that was a statement. He’s likely too raw to play full-time in the league this season, but what was most intriguing was where Korshkov scored his goals, particularly his power-play goal. The Leafs’ power play units right now do not have too many obvious net-front options — Zach Hyman was an option but is hurt, and John Tavares has been moved out to the bumper role in the slot — and Korshkov appears to have the frame, the nose/willingness, and the touch around the net to play a role there. He also forechecks with intent and takes good angles, using his reach and frame to disrupt, as we saw on his second goal. A full AHL season and playoff run is probably the right call here, but could he keep the momentum going this week and really force his way into the conversation for the final wing spot while Zach Hyman recovers? Again, the $925k base salary on his ELC and his waiver exempt status doesn’t help his cause.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) September 24, 2019
Michael Hutchinson – Really good night for Hutchinson, who stopped 38 of 38, including 19 saves in the third period. With whatever injury situation he’s battling, Michal Neuvirth again wasn’t feeling up to it, and that meant a big 60-minute opportunity for Hutchinson to stake more of a claim to the crease. He was square positionally throughout the night, aggressively cut down angles, and gave out very little in the way of second and third opportunities. There were a number of nice glove saves throughout the night that owed as much to his positioning as his reflexes. The ball’s in Neuvirth’s court to respond if he can get himself healthy. It feels like Hutchinson needs another one of this kind of performance to cement his spot this week — particularly over some of the other waiver options that will shake loose, if not Neuvirth — but this was a big step forward for him.
Jordan Schmaltz – He was guilty of at least three really tough giveaways where he struggled to settle a puck down or wasn’t decisive enough and got caught in possession. One led to a penalty and another to a grade-A scoring chance in front of his own net. It wasn’t all bad as far as his puck movement out of the zone, but it wasn’t a tidy effort tonight. Not what he needed exactly with the organization looking at Sandin and Marincin as their potential opening-night bottom pair, but he’ll get at least one more look this week.
Ben Harpur — He’s a decent enough skater for a 6’7 defenseman moving forward, and a turnstile for oncoming rushers when he’s skating backward/pivoting. He was burned wide clean a couple of times again tonight and threw a couple of passes way off the mark, one for an icing. He blocked a few shots on the PK and took care of a few Habs on the boards/around the net, but he can’t be under serious consideration for a roster spot. If you were going to give a guy a roster spot on the basis of size — which you shouldn’t — Kevin Gravel has been more sound defending and moving the puck.
Nick Shore / Kenny Agostino – What isn’t lost on the coaching staff and shouldn’t be on fans is that this line played against a legitimate NHL first line (Domi, Tatar, Drouin, albeit it’s preseason) and didn’t get caved in by any means. Shore has not grabbed as much attention as Gauthier so far this camp, but he’s strong in his own zone, has good details to his game, and can protect the puck at the other end. He has scored this preseason as well, which shouldn’t count for nothing (flashed some quick hands for a finish in front late in the game in Ottawa). As a right-handed C, he won 58% of his draws tonight after winning 75% versus Buffalo. Even if he loses out on an opening night lineup spot, you have to figure if the Leafs are to keep one extra forward, it has to be Shore knowing he can take safe shifts at center.
Timothy Liljegren — His best effort of preseason so far. A few stumbles here and there, but he was more decisive going back for pucks and breaking them out. He looked like he had loosened up a little and wasn’t playing it as safe as he was in prior outings. He broke up some plays by holding an aggressive line and a good stick in the neutral zone. He picked up an assist on the Darren Archibald goal after sending Nic Petan away down the wing. You’d like things to be a little smoother for him, still — there were some stumbles (he fell over a couple of times defending the cycle along the wall) and he makes some extra work for himself with his footwork at times, but those are things that can be cleaned up. Encouraging effort overall.
Nic Petan — Sounds weird to say considering Trevor Moore is by no means an establish NHLer, but he’s a good example of what the Leafs need more of from Petan if he’s going to start on the team. It’s great that he has plenty of skill and could play on the power play (though that would be a rare occurrence on the Leafs), but if he’s going to be in a bottom-six wing position, he’s got to be more of a worker and a battler throughout games — forcing play defensively, being disruptive tracking back and on the forecheck, taking care of the puck. Tonight was more along the lines of what Babcock would be looking for if Petan is to start on his third line. He’s going to have to follow Tyler Ennis’ path from last year if he’s going to play full time this season — commit yourself as a 200-foot digger who can chip-in offensively. It’s not lost on me that Petan has three points to his name in preseason now.
Justin Holl — He’s largely been taking shifts this preseason and failing to impact the game enough to win a job, so it was nice to see him grab some attention by defending a rush well and finishing Jesperi Kotkaniemi hard into the end boards, earning a back pat from Babcock on the bench. He played a pretty clean game up against the Habs’ top line. He’s a decent puck mover who glides well out there, but taking advantage of his 6’4 frame more is going to be necessary if he’s to play in the league full time — not referring here to burying opponents with devastating hits, but more rub outs, standing attackers up, and getting himself in the mix more physically. Otherwise, he’s just a decent depth puck mover who doesn’t fill much of a need for Babcock.
— Leafs ALL Day (@LeafsAllDayy) September 23, 2019
Mike Babcock Post Game: Leafs 3 vs. Canadiens 0
On a motivated effort from his team:
That was the plan. You never know. You’re playing real good players. If they get ahead early, it could get ugly on you. I thought we got good goaltending and I thought we worked real hard. I thought Shore and Read and those guys provided great leadership. Guys played hard and we got ourselves a road win.
On the Marlies-bound players making an impression:
I think that is real important. You’re trying for 31 teams when you’re in the league. That’s real important as well. Korshkov had a real good game. Holl, Petan — I thought guys had opportunities and did something with it. That is what you are looking for. There was no place to hide tonight. You were playing against real good players and you had to play hard. I thought they did that. That’s good for them and good for us.
On the team’s defensive play:
I thought we did a good job. We got on our heels a little in the third, but I thought through two, we did a good job. We stayed physical, got on top of them, didn’t give them a lot of space. In the end, that is what led to us having some success and winning the game.
On the special teams:
I don’t know if our power play was as good as our penalty kill. Our penalty kill was really good. Guys were committed in that area. We’ve got big guys that are on the back and I thought they did a good job. Shore and Gaudet and Elynuik — I’ve been impressed with him. He’s done a real good job. I don’t know if we planned on playing him in exhibition games, but he’s done a real good job in the ones he’s been in.
On Michael Hutchinson’s performance:
Tonight’s game was a good game for the goalie. We got a lead early. It is always nice. No different than pitching, you like to get a lead. It’s easier for you. But I thought Hutch did a good job.
On Nic Petan’s performance:
He was physical. He was on the puck. He didn’t turn the puck over. That is what matters to me. When you are not trying out for the top six forwards, you have to decide a way to survive in the league as a skilled guy. You probably have to find a way to score against bottom lines but do it by working hard. I thought he worked tonight.