We are getting much closer to the real deal with nearly-full NHL lineups in the third-from-last game of preseason tonight in Montreal (7 p.m. EST, TSN4).
The Maple Leafs will play as many as 11 forwards and five defensemen who are locks or probable inclusions in the opening-night lineup, in addition to their NHL tandem in net. Tonight’s lineup features what could be their top-six on Oct. 12: Bunting – Matthews – Marner / Robertson – Kerfoot – Nylander.
Denis Malgin has received quite a few looks on William Nylander’s line as well and has had a strong camp in his own right, so Nick Robertson has a big opportunity tonight to continue building on the momentum of his last two preseason games in which he’s produced three goals, four points, and six shots on goal while earning Sheldon Keefe’s praise: “He is improving and his confidence is growing daily… These past two games are the best I’ve seen Nick look in a Leafs jersey.”
The Habs will counter with an NHL top-nine group of their own: Dadonov – Dvorak – Gallagher / Drouin – Monahan – Anderson / Hoffman – Dach – Slafkovsky.
Further down the lineup, Adam Gaudette — tabbed by Sheldon Keefe as a potential candidate for a Bunting-like breakout this season — is returning to game action from a shoulder injury and has some catchup to do. Pontus Holmberg, centering Zach Aston-Reese and Nicolas Aube-Kubel tonight, has earned Keefe’s trust throughout camp and preseason so far and appears to have the inside track as the team’s fourth center. The wings are also crowded, particularly with Aston-Reese, Robertson, and Malgin making their presence known so far in camp.
In net, Ilya Samsonov will back up Matt Murray while Jake Allen — fresh off inking his new two-year, $7.7 million contract — will start for the Canadiens.
Game Day Quotes
Auston Matthews on the difference in Nick Robertson from his first NHL camp to now:
I think it is just experience. When he first came in, he was 18. He has learned a lot in the last couple of years. It hasn’t been easy for him with injuries and the way the world kind of shifted as he was entering the league. It is not easy mentally or physically going through that, but he has looked really confident so far.
I think the biggest thing for him is that sometimes you try too hard and it almost works against you where you are trying, forcing, pushing, and wanting it so bad. Sometimes you just have to kind of relax out there and play your game — work hard, play smart, and don’t try to force the issue too much.
I think in this camp he has done a really good job of finding his game. When you score a couple of goals, you get that confidence. That has been great to see.
Sheldon Keefe on the signs of when Nick Robertson is impacting the game:
Making plays, getting to the net, getting the puck to the net, getting on the scoresheet — all of those kinds of things. That is one way to do it. In his case, I think that was sort of the missing link. He has been working really hard. He has been on the puck. I have been happy with his play away from the puck.
He is an offensive player, so a lot of times, if a guy is not showing the ability to do it consistently with that kind of skill set, those are the kinds of guys you want to give a little more time with the Marlies and really refine their game offensively at the pro level before bringing them in.
It has been nice to see. In the last two preseason games, it is the best I have seen Nick look in a Leafs jersey. That has been really positive to see.
We just want to continue to monitor that. With the remaining NHL games, I would expect there will be more NHL players playing in each game. With that, Nick and the rest of our group will be challenged more.
Matt Murray on the relationship he is building with his partner in the goaltending tandem, Ilya Samsonov:
It is great. We are definitely building a good, strong relationship. He is an awesome, hard-working guy. Goalies always tend to get along pretty well. I think we are still building the relationship, but it has been great so far.
He is pretty easy-going. He likes to have fun and joke around. He is just an easy guy to hang out with, talk to, and be around.
Murray on the dynamic of building a tight relationship with a goaltender you’re competing with day in and day out:
Goalies tend to have really strong relationships. I can’t say I haven’t had one relationship that wasn’t really deep and strong. It is the only guy who can really relate to you and know exactly what you’re going through — a guy you can bounce ideas off of on a daily basis. I am always thankful to have that strong relationship with my goalie partner.
It is a healthy competition. I think it is good for everybody. You build off of each other. You push each other. At the end of the day, if you can push the other guy, it is always going to be better for you and the team. I don’t really think there is anything bad about it. It is a really good, healthy competition.
Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis on 2022 no. 1 overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky’s progress through camp so far:
Tonight will be a good test for him. As we progress towards the end of preseason, you are going to see deeper NHL lineups. I am looking forward to seeing what that is like for him. He has been exposed to a lot. He is trying to take it all in and put his best foot forward.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lineup
Bunting – Matthews – Marner
Robertson – Kerfoot – Nylander
ZAR – Holmberg – NAK
Steeves – Gaudette – Malgin
Rielly – Brodie
Giordano – Holl
Král – Mete
Montreal Canadiens Projected Lineup
Dadonov – Dvorak – Gallagher
Drouin – Monahan – Anderson
Hoffman – Dach – Slafkovsky
Simoneau – Gignac – Belzile
Matheson – Leskinen
Xhekaj – Barron
Schueneman – Bowey