The Toronto Maple Leafs’ full NHL lineup put the screws to a half-strength Montreal Canadiens team on Wednesday night, shutting them out for the second game in a row by the same 3-0 scoreline.
The Leafs were breaking out relatively cleanly and flying through a wide-open neutral zone, rolling over the Habs with a near-60-minute, four-line/three-pair effort in which they outshot Montreal 49-26 and out-possessed them 63/37.
Tavares – Ho hum. He played heavy on his stick, scored from his usual territory in tight around the net, and worked his customary magic with Marner.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) September 25, 2019
Marner – He was scintillating in possession at 5v5, slicing and dicing defenders with a couple of jaw-dropping sequences. The PP isn’t totally clicking yet — particularly with the early entry struggles — but he was still able to find Matthews with their new cross-seam pass play, which is a nice confidence builder ahead of the regular season.
Johnsson – As he has all preseason, he played an effective complementary role with the Matthews/Nylander duo. He got to loose pucks first, made a few nice plays in traffic, and he was keeping plays alive throughout the game. He knows his role on this line and embraces it well.
Matthews – He wasn’t as dominant as we’ve seen at times this preseason, but there was no doubt a big distraction looming over him. It’s a tantalizing new wrinkle to the goal-scoring arsenal on his offwing this year: What if he were to unlock the door for major power-play production this season? Scary thought for the league.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) September 26, 2019
Nylander – He was confident and polished in possession with multiple clean exits and entries throughout the game, although there wasn’t much of an end product to a lot of it. A little hesitant in his 1v1 battles as the game wore on, but nothing to worry about in preseason.
Mikheyev – More positive progress from Miheyev as the preseason moves along. He put on some strong displays down low fending off hits from behind and rolling off players while maintaining possession. He has a bit of a power element to his game that provides a nice mix with his overall skill set. He can execute some effective east/west plays that give the team different looks, and he is effective at buying time and making the defense or forwards push up higher in the zone than they’d like, opening up space for teammates and cross-seam plays. He dug in for some nice hustle plays tracking back and disrupting/turning pucks over, one of which nearly led to a goal for him on the doorstep.
Kerfoot – Some consistency in linemates no doubt helped with his confidence and shift to shift impact. A quick player with a good work rate, this was his best showing of presason so far. His line was tilting the ice consistently with all three forwards’ motors running well throughout the game. He’ll be a work-in-progress at center as the season moves along.
Moore – Another excellent game from Moore, who did everything you could ask for. He was one of the few players playing at a regular-season level with regard to his commitment to one-on-one battles, second and third efforts, and constant presence around the net. He’s got a couple of multi-point games in preseason now and appears to have earned himself more ice time and a promotion onto the third line with Kerfoot to start the regular season assuming Babcock chooses to stick with it. It would be well deserved for a player who has looked no less hungry after establishing himself as an NHL player last year.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) September 25, 2019
Timashov – It’s a little curious how he’s beaten out other players in camp if he actually has (his below league min. cap hit could be a factor in this), but he does a few things at an NHL level: good hands, shot, and playmaking ability. He’s added a full extra top skating gear to his repertoire and he can get down the ice in a hurry on the forecheck or when chasing down loose pucks. He had a few nice backcheck hustle plays in this game as well. We’ll see how he meshes as the preseason moves along; some players prefer the predictability of play at the NHL level and can play up to it. We’ll just have to watch and see how he fits in. His ability to speak all of the major hockey languages (with Mikheyev on the roster) may play a small part in the decision to keep him with this group.
Gauthier – The Goat will never go away. Long live The Goat. His skating continues to improve year-over-year and he looks legitimately quick — especially for his size but also just in general. He’s floating on top of the ice and skating efficiently right now. We already know he’s a bright player that reads play well and can stop exits out of the zone for the opposing team, which always helps feed into the Leafs’ transition game. Let’s see if it translates into more offense this year.
Muzzin / Barrie – Solid game from the pair. Barrie executed a number of smart plays under pressure to create clean exits, as you would expect, and Muzzin was his dependable self. Both players have another level to find, but this time of year isn’t for evaluating these types of players.
Ceci – He’s kept mistakes to a minimum so far this preseason and is finding his forward outlet dependably and escaping trouble consistently. He’s more active than his recent offensive numbers might suggest in jumping/creeping in off the point. A lot of skepticism surrounds this player, and rightfully so, but we’ll see if the ability to defer to a defenseman as talented as Rielly while playing secondary matchups in behind Muzzin-Barrie brings out some untapped potential.
Sandin – Another solid outing from Sandin. He’s got an understated physical side to his game and threw three good hits in this game on top of the savvy veteran plays that are fast becoming par for the course with him. He picked up another assist where just smartly sifted the puck into the right area with bodies in front. The d-core as a whole executed a pretty tidy game exiting the zone, helped by the forwards generally being in the right spots to provide short outlets to initiate the breakout.
It's unfair that rookies like Dale Weise have to go up against veterans like Rasmus Sandin in these preseason games. pic.twitter.com/q5uGWi8pAP
— Nick DeSouza (@NickDeSouza_) September 26, 2019
Mike Babcock Post Game: Leafs 3 vs. Canadiens 0
On the team’s performance:
I didn’t think we were great in the first 10 minutes. After that, I thought we played pretty well and pretty hard. I talked to the players about it this morning: We’ve got a lot of new people in our roster this year. We haven’t been together. When you get together and you’re trying to figure out your team, you need guys to play hard so you can evaluate what you have and you can figure out how to play them. I know for myself tonight managing the bench, I lost guys a couple of times. You’re not used to them being here. You’ve got to figure out how to run it and do it right.
On Rasmus Sandin’s physical play:
I think the main thing is he just reads it good and can step in and swing into guys. I think heh moves the puck real good. He gets the sifter through from the blue line. He’s got intelligence. He just seems to have a real feel for the game. You don’t think of him as a kid because he’s not making jittery mistakes. He just seems to be out there playing.
On Moore’s play on the Kerfoot line:
I just thought that was Kerf’s best game. You come to a new program and you’ve got a lot of information and you’re just settling in. I thought he was good. I think him and Mikheyev have a chance to really climb, and then Mooresy is a good player for us. I don’t know if we’re going to use him on the fourth or the third or where we’re going to use him, but I thought he was strong tonight.
On how encouraged he is by his goaltending the past two games (both shutouts):
We were just talking about that; you keep shots to the outside and give them a chance. I thought Freddy made some good saves on some tips here tonight. On our penalty kill, we gave up some chances. We gave up a slot one-timer right away and he made a good save on that. Good for the guys.
On how close the group is to ready for real action:
We are going to use all the time we have. We are going to have seven or eight new players. That is a lot of change and we’ve got to get up to speed, but I like some of the steps we took here today.
On Auston Matthews scoring on his one-time side:
He had the play in the first where he hit the shaft and then he had another look. I thought it was good. I didn’t think our power play was near as impressive as it is going to be tonight. I thought we got way too cute early and our entries weren’t smooth, but it was good to score a power-play goal there.