After a promising start for the Maple Leafs that saw them take a 2-0 lead into the third period, the game fell apart as the Senators roared back to win 4-2 in the second leg of the split-squad games.
After the other half of the Leafs’ training camp roster took the ice Saturday afternoon in a winning effort, the Leafs and Senators clashed for the second game of the day. Compared to the early game, the contest was a lot more competitive and had a lot more back-and-forth action. While the Leafs did lose in the end, the result is nothing to pay much attention to. That’s the beauty of the preseason, where the individual performances are all that really matter at this stage as Sheldon Keefe and company continue to ponder how the lineup will look when they take the ice for their season opener on October 12.
In the first game, the Leafs saw several of the players competing for depth roles put on a strong performance. That meant the other group had to follow suit. Early on, it certainly looked like a similar game in terms of how well Toronto was controlling play. Through the opening 20 minutes, the Leafs controlled 71.43% of the shot attempts and 70% of the scoring chances (data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick)
After a strong opening frame, the Leafs opened the scoring early in the second. Michael Bunting and Auston Matthews worked the puck free down low before Calle Järnkrok made his way to the right circle and parked himself in a shooting position. Matthews found him, and Järnkrok made no mistake.
It was a great shot from Järnkrok; in fact, it was such a good play that later in the second period, he decided to repeat the feat, this time off of a feed from Bunting in almost the exact same spot on the ice.
Those two tallies helped mask the underlying issue in the period, though, as Ottawa began to control play a lot more. The shot attempts remained relatively close (19-13 in favour of the Senators), but the scoring chances and high-danger chances were really tilted in the wrong direction for Toronto. In the second period, the Senators out-chanced the Leafs 12-5 (73.68%) and put up seven high-danger chances to the Leafs’ zero.
That trend continued into the third period, and as a result, Ottawa was able to climb back into the game. First, Angus Crookshank buried a cross-crease chance in front after working behind Nick Abruzzese. Later in the third, this time on the power play, the Senators’ top unit was able to work a pretty passing play that once again resulted in a cross-crease goal. This time, Josh Norris finished the play after receiving a sweet feed from Thomas Chabot.
The game-winner came just 22 seconds after the tying goal as Victor Mete was unable to box out Mark Kestelic, who buried the rebound.
Finally, Tyler Motte broke free and finished into an empty net despite a valiant effort from Matthews to knock the puck away.
As mentioned above, Calle Järnkrok scored a pair of goals off a few really nice shots in this game. An opportunity to play with Auston Matthews certainly helps, but those goals were not a result of Järnkrok playing passenger on that line. He was always where he needed to be to make the right play, whether it meant battling below the goal line to keep the puck alive on the cycle, staying on the perimeter as a passing option, or heading to the slot to open up for shot attempts.
Järnkrok was responsible defensively, always in the right position, and also happens to kill penalties. He had a very similar game to Zach Aston-Reece in that regard, although Aston-Reece failed to flash offensively as Järnkrok did. Sheldon Keefe, like any NHL coach, loves versatile players he can use in a bunch of different spots and roles in the lineup, and Jarnkrok certainly appears to fit that bill.
Järnkrok has shown plenty of times throughout his career the ability to play a third-line checking role, and on Saturday night, he flashed an ability to play alongside skilled players as well as on both special teams. It’s early and it’s only exhibition games, but it was a pretty ideal start to Järnkrok’s preseason.
Goaltending has been the talk of the town in Toronto this offseason, and the doubts aren’t going to be dispelled after one preseason game regardless of the performance levels. That said, Ilya Samsonov did look really steady in goal in this game.
During the aforementioned second-period blitz from the Senators, Samsonov stood tall. He was confident and aggressive, moving with purpose to either challenge shooters or get across the crease, and he never over-extended himself. There was an economy to his movement inside the blue paint that ensured he was always in position and following the play effectively. Again, it’s 40 minutes of the first preseason game, so it doesn’t mean much, but Samsonov looked sharp, which is (of course) better than the alternative.
Due to a combination of injuries and a contractual holdout, the state of the Leafs‘ defense is in flux. That means an opportunity appears to be available for Jordie Benn and Victor Mete to snag a lineup spot to begin the year. On Saturday, while Mete failed to box out an opponent led directly to a goal, the pairing delivered about what you would expect.
Mete showcased his skating ability a few times as well as his ability to move the puck effectively. Benn did a good job at using his size to win battles along the boards and shut down the cycle. Neither player was leap-off-the-page good, but they weren’t liabilities, either. That is exactly what you would expect from these two players: not anything special, but adequate play that can plug into the lineup competently if and when they’re needed.
While adequate play may be enough to earn the final spot on defense in Timothy Liljegren’s absence, the same can’t be said upfront. There are simply too many bodies for bubble players to merely blend in and make the opening-day lineup. One of those players was Kyle Clifford, who is in the same boat as Wayne Simmonds as two veteran grinders who are in a battle to find their place on a roster that is getting younger and faster around them.
On the other end of the spectrum is a pair of young guns that are trying to push the old guard for a spot in the opening night lineup. Both Nick Robertson and Nick Abruzzese have NHL games under their belt, but becoming a full-time NHL player is another step altogether. For Abruzzese, it seems clear to me he’s not ready and needs time to season with the Marlies. He has good instincts and typically puts himself in the right position, but his size and strength remain an issue and he hasn’t quite sped up his processing speed to the level of the NHL pros quite yet. It’s clear he has a plan for what he wants to do when he is on the ice, but he’s not quite able to execute it at the level required. Some time in the AHL will serve him well.
As for Robertson, he certainly flashed more than Abruzzese. After a quiet opening period, Robertson started buzzing. Robertson won some battles in this game and also showed some improvements in his own end for that same reason. He was generally moving with more purpose without the puck. Taking care of those details in his game is going to be critical if Robertson is to earn the trust of Keefe and receive looks up the lineup early in the season.
With the puck on his stick, he still has some room for growth. In the offensive zone, it’s clear he wants to take his time and wind up for the perfect release, but because there’s so much less time and space at this level, it hasn’t quite come off for him. The talent is clearly there, and there are signs he’s starting to piece it together at this level of competition, but there’s just a little bit more Robertson has to clean up as he progresses through training camp.
Sheldon Keefe Post Game: Senators 4 vs. Leafs 2
On what he learned from the two games today:
I don’t know how much we learned. I think it is early to make any definitive decisions. I think you want to give it time and let it play out. Really, when I look at it, today is sort of the end of training camp. We get a day off tomorrow, and then we’ll come back, and in my mind, we are starting preseason. That is how I have it separated in my mind.
Today was essentially replacing what would be a scrimmage day if we didn’t have games. That is really what it is about: getting guys reps and minutes. To do it against an opponent, you get that much more out of it in terms of getting rid of the summer hockey stuff and getting ready to play real hockey.
From that standpoint, I thought it was a good day for us. I thought we wanted to get good minutes for the goaltenders — in particular, Kallgren and Samsonov. I thought both of those guys had good days. I think, for the most part, we got out of it healthy. Guys got lots of good reps.
A much-needed day off on Sunday for the guys after a long week. They need the day off. We will come back at it, shuffle some things around, and get to it on Monday.
On Ilya Samsonov’s and Calle Jarnkrok’s performances:
For any player coming in — you can look at Järnkrok just the same — in a new team, in a new city, and in a new building, it is natural to want to do well. From that end of it, it puts a little bit of extra emphasis on the game. Really, there shouldn’t be given it is so early in camp, but it is natural. I thought those guys did a really good job of doing what they needed to do today: go out, play well, and be themselves.
Samsonov looked really strong to me — in particular, there were a couple of scrambles in and around the net where he looked really strong and composed. The bottom of the net was taken care of. That was good to see.
Järnkrok is a guy I am really excited about adding to our team. I was [excited] in the offseason. In the early going here — between the practice days and today — he is showing all of the things I have come to respect in his game from watching him over the last couple of years and even more so this offseason.
He is an incredibly well-rounded and smart player. He can pass a puck. He can shoot a puck. He can defend. He plays hard. He does a lot of things really well that are going to help our team.
I think he is an easy guy to play with. He is versatile. Not only can he get open and shoot it, but he scored some goals in practice in the last couple of days that I looked at and said, “That is an elite shot.” To get open, get it off as quick, and get it in the net so quick… and then he almost had the third one there in dramatic fashion at the end, which would’ve been something.
It shows the willingness to shoot and the ability to get it there. That is positive. We think we have some good players that can get him the puck in good spots. That is just part of what he does. He is a very important player because he does so many things well on both sides of the puck.
On the importance of Erik Kallgren pressing for a job and staying in the mix in net:
He is very important. With the arrival of Murray and Samsonov, he is sort of the forgotten guy, but he is a guy who came in and played really well for us last season at times. When we were reeling for quite a bit in goal there and couldn’t get any traction, he came up from the Marlies and sort of stabilized us and allowed us to get confident and get rolling as a team.
We haven’t forgotten about that. We haven’t forgotten about him. He goes about his business. It was good to be able to get him in the net here today. It is going to be a challenge to get him in the net because the other two guys are going to take on a greater workload, but it is important that we continue to work with him and that he gets time with Curtis Sanford as they build out their relationship.
You never know what the season brings. The third guy is important. Because of his experience last season, he is pushing. He wants to do his best to be there when the opportunity may come.