Welcome back, everyone!

On one hand, this was a weird game-watching experience. On the other, it felt so right to have hockey back.

The arena situation was a bit strange to witness, and there were certainly no real goal celebrations, but it was NHL hockey, and really, the overall quality was reasonable. I feel optimistic that we will be able to enjoy a reasonable product here.

Now, let’s get to this game. The Leafs scored early and were far more dangerous in the first period on the whole. In the second, it evened out a bit, and when Montreal scored to make it a one-goal game, they applied some pressure afterward and appeared on the verge of tying it on a power play only for the Leafs to score shorthanded. Again in the third period, the Habs brought it to within one; again, the Leafs scored shorthanded to pad the lead. From there, the score held and the rest of the game was relatively uneventful.

Your game in 10:

1.  You can’t ask for a better start, not only for the team as a whole but Ilya Mikheyev as an individual in his return to competitive action. That line was buzzing all night; John Tavares missed a chance in front the very next shift, and in general, they looked really good all over the ice — they seemed to know where each other were at all times. Tavares had some jump – you might recall he was laboring a little bit before the season was suspended, but it looks like he’s healthy now. That is a huge difference for this Leafs team.

2.  I noticed, on their first power play, the Leafs actually tried setting up the Leon Draisaitl two-touch shot between Auston Matthews and John Tavares. The traffic was tight, so there was no chance it was going to work, but Tavares did try to take it on his backhand, tap the puck to himself, and riffle off a shot. That is a potential new wrinkle to look out for.

I was a little disappointed to see Zach Hyman taken off the power play as the odd man out with Nick Robertson in. Hyman scored three power-play goals in the regular season and was a notable difference-maker in front of the net.

3.  Speaking of Hyman, that was some great work from him on the penalty kill leading to a shorthanded goal. Kasperi Kapanen was all over the penalty kill as well, leading to a goal. In general, I thought Kapanen was easily one of the Leafs’ best players tonight. Between watching some of their practice games and tonight’s game, he appears to be flying again (at one point in January/February, it felt like his speed wasn’t as much of a factor, so this was nice to see). He had a few scoring opportunities (I thought his breakaway was a little strange before the Kerfoot goal, but when Shea Weber is on you, that can happen). Overall, I thought Kapanen and Tavares were the two best Leafs.

4.  Cody Ceci and Martin Marincin took a few shifts together and it did not go well – Ceci took a penalty on a shift where the Habs nearly had a breakaway, and the Habs’ best shift of the first two periods (including Dale Weise missing a wide-open net) was with this pair on the ice. I don’t think anyone thought this would be a real pairing, but in case it ever was… yeah, don’t do it.

5.  Some other interesting wrinkles today – Morgan Rielly with Travis Dermott in the third, William Nylander on the left side, and the Matthews – Tavares – Nylander line was reunited and looked extremely dangerous when they were on the ice together. The Rielly – Dermott pairing struggled, but it is hard for defensemen to gel right away.

I maintain that Dermott plays better with a heavy workload and kind of shades to the background when he is on the third pairing (his passing was not crisp on the night, either). Nylander wasn’t particularly dangerous on the left, either (personally, I like him on the right side).

6.  If one guy is out between Nick Robertson, Pierre Engvall, and Frederik Gauthier, I thought the least effective player tonight was Engvall. Gauthier at least has some value as a center and broke up a few plays with his reach and backchecking (as well as leading some breakouts as a target in the middle of the ice). Engvall, I just didn’t notice at all.

When they extended Engvall during the season, I said it was a bit strange considering he had a sky-high shooting percentage at the time and was already in his mid-20s. Now he’s on the roster bubble mere months later. I still think he’s a serviceable player, but he’s making $1.25 million per season for the next two and this is a tight-to-the-cap team.

7.  That was a really strong and encouraging game from Frederik Andersen. He was calm, he challenged shooters and made himself big, his rebound control was there, and he had absolutely no chance on either Montreal goal. The first was a backdoor tap-in and the second one was not only a great play by Paul Byron but controlling the rebound was out of the question with a slap shot that hard from that close. 

8.  I get that it was a new experience for the broadcast and they were trying things out, but personally, I’d rather they keep the regular camera angles during gameplay. If they want to show us some cool looks during replays from different new angles, go wild. Robertson had a chance in the first period, in particular, that was completely ruined by the camera angle at the time. I am not opposed to change, but I also believe in, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” and in this case, the regular camera angles are completely satisfactory.

9.  The ice looked absolutely terrible and it was only the second game of the day at the rink. The final five minutes of each period were a disaster, and while I wasn’t expecting great ice considering the weather in Toronto, I figured no fans in the rink might counteract it a little bit. This is going to be a noteworthy storyline.

10.  It was “just” an exhibition game, but in weird times, all things considered, this was an encouraging Leafs game. As weird as the whole environment felt at points, I actually thought one of the strangest parts of the night came when the Canadiens didn’t pull their goalie down two and on a power play with a few minutes left… and then pulled him with a minute left.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempt Locations

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens

Game Highlights: Leafs 4 vs. Canadiens 2