A Maple Leafs lineup light on star power and heavy on bubble players will make the trip to Ottawa tonight for the third primer of the six-game exhibition season (7:00 p.m. EST, TSN4&5).
The Czech duo of David Kampf and Ondrej Kase will remain together for the second consecutive game after both scored (Kampf’s goal came shorthanded) and showed some burgeoning chemistry together in Montreal on Monday. In addition to his shorthanded goal, Kampf logged over four minutes on the penalty kill, won 65% of his draws, and put four shots on net.
This time, the pair will be flanked by PTO invite Nikita Gusev, who will need to show more than he did on Monday in Montreal if he’s to earn a contract, on their left wing. It appears as though Keefe is giving the Kampf-Kase duo a pretty hard look as a possible third-line combination for opening night, although it is early days still. The versatility of the pair, particularly Kampf, is something Sheldon Keefe has referenced multiple times throughout camp to date.
“The addition of Kampf gives us depth at center that, to me, we haven’t had in my time here,” Keefe said today. “I feel comfortable playing David Kampf against anybody at any time. That is a very important thing, as it is going to help manage the minutes of Matthews and Tavares a little bit, too.”
This is a point I made shortly after the Kampf signing: The demands on Matthews and Marner all over the ice were high last season relative to the league’s other elite forward duos who tend to start a higher percentage of their shifts in the offensive zone. If Keefe is going to manage the pair’s minutes more responsibly and do it in the right way — i.e. while keeping them flush with high-leverage offensive situations — a credible checking center like Kampf, if he’s up to the challenge (as he was in Chicago), can share some of the burden and becomes an important piece of the overall puzzle up front.
On the backend, 33-year-old defenseman Alex Biega will make his preseason debut. Of the Leafs‘ four options at right defense in this camp — Travis Dermott on his off side, Timothy Liljegren, Biega, and Brennan Mennell — Biega by far has the most experience playing regular shifts at the RD position at the NHL level, which shouldn’t be totally lost on us when contemplating the options for the opening-night roster.
As for Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin, both will be playing without their top-four veteran partners from last Saturday’s game (Muzzin and Brodie), which should provide a different type of test here tonight.
In the battle to stay in the mix for the 4C spot, Kirill Semyonov and Michael Amadio are looking to build on quietly solid performances in their first preseason games on Saturday (Adam Brooks, playing on Amadio’s left wing tonight, is also in this battle). Lined up on the left side with Gusev are two other players in the mix for the opportunity available on the team’s LW in Michael Bunting and Nick Robertson, with Bunting having the leg up for a top-six spot at the moment between his contract status, his goal-scoring success in the league last season (albeit in a small sample), and his strong first showing in preseason next to John Tavares last Saturday.
In net, Petr Mrazek will start from the puck drop tonight after entering Monday’s game for the second half and facing a very light workload (eight shots) with the Leafs already trailing by multiple goals.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on the opportunities for players on the bubble tonight:
Every game is important for guys on the bubble. You don’t get a lot of opportunities. This is a good one for them here today.
They are going to play against some of Ottawa’s best players. They are going to play a lot. They are going to play in some similar situations they might be in if they were to make our team or come play for us as callups. They are going to play in some situations that they think they maybe should be, and they will get those opportunities.
Without most of our top guys, there will be a lot of ice time, power-play opportunities, penalty kill opportunities, matchups — all of those kinds of things. They are not going to be there for much longer.
Keefe on Nick Robertson’s camp so far:
For me, you include the rookie tournament in his camp. We got a lot of feedback there. I was able to get viewings myself. I think he has done a really good job of working, being competitive, showing his skill set, and also, in the rookie tournament, he took on a leadership role in terms of setting the example. He is a guy who has been there and was one of the only guys in the group who had played in the NHL. That has been really positive.
In the early going here [at main camp], he has had some good moments in time. The biggest hurdle for him is the fact that we have a lot of depth here. He is still a young guy trying to find his way. He is trying to sort through being the dangerous top-six scorer we think he can be and we certainly think he has the ability to be.
That opportunity may not be available for him. He is trying to figure out how to do the other things really well and be good in the other areas of the game. He gets a chance to kill penalties and do things that he has done at the junior level. He killed penalties with the Marlies last year, which was important for us to give him those minutes to do so.
He is a young guy in the mix with older guys who are trying to compete for spots. He is certainly in the mix for us. He has a lot of tools we can utilize when the time comes for it.
Keefe on Kirill Semyonov’s camp to date:
Jim Paliafito identified him. He has come in as a guy who is coming off of a good season in the KHL. He was an important player on his team and helped them win a championship out there.
He is coming into a team that has added depth since his signing. He is competing for a spot. I have only watched him on video up until a week or so ago. I thought the other night, especially watching the game back again, he did a lot of really good things.
The number of power plays happening both ways affected his ice time. We probably didn’t get to see him as much as I was hoping, and we are hoping we can get him more involved here tonight. There have definitely been positive things there.
The language issue is always the biggest challenge for players who come over from Russia in particular, but he hasn’t picked up what we are trying to do very quickly. In practices, he is picking up on the drills and tactics. He is a smart player and a competitive player who showed the other night that he can also make plays and contribute on offense, too.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#89 Nick Robertson – #15 Alex Kerfoot – #24 Wayne Simmonds
#97 Nikita Gusev – #64 David Kampf – #25 Ondrej Kase
#58 Michael Bunting – #94 Kirill Semyonov – #52 Josh Ho-Sang
#77 Adam Brooks – #18 Michael Amadio – #29 Kurtis Gabriel
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #33 Alex Biega
#48 Carl Dahlstrom – #23 Travis Dermott
#82 Filip Kral – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#35 Petr Mrazek
#30 Michael Hutchinson
Ottawa Senators Projected Lines
Stützle – Tierney – C. Brown
Sanford – White – Paul
Kelly – Ostapchuk – Sherwood
Goulbourne – Bishop – Sabourin
Del Zotto – Zaitsev
Aspirot – J. Brown
Brannstrom – Thomson