With a lineup close to what is likely to be their opening night configuration, the Toronto Maple Leafs easily dispatched a Detroit Red Wings team that was icing an AHL-heavy squad by the score of 5-1 at Scotiabank Arena in their final preseason game.
This game was a flipped script from the preceding night when it was the Leafs with their B-team against the Wings’ A-team. Outside of possibly Nick Robertson, Toronto iced what is likely to be their opening night roster, while Detroit’s lineup contained only a handful of players likely to see time in the NHL this season. That imbalance was reflected on the scoreboard throughout the night, but not quite at the jump.
Towards the midway point of the first period, the Leafs‘ PP flashed good puck movement but was unable to score before Detroit responded by striking first. After an errant Auston Matthews pass for Rasmus Sandin was intercepted in the neutral zone, the Red Wings broke in with numbers at the point of attack. Adam Erne dished the pass across to Pius Suter, who snapped a shot by Matt Murray.
The Red Wings’ lead didn’t stand for long. William Nylander kicked off his electric evening just under four minutes later after Morgan Rielly broke the puck out of the zone and passed it to Mark Giordano, who slipped it over to Nylander. Toronto’s Swede, playing center tonight, received the pass, knifed into the Detroit zone, and ripped a shot by Red Wings netminder Jussi Olkinuora from just above the faceoff dot. That tally evened the score at 1-1 and closed out a period in which the Leafs were generally the better team.
In the second period, a preseason hero flashed his face again as Denis Malgin popped up with a filthy breakaway goal:
MALGIN MAKIN' MOVES 💨 pic.twitter.com/4X4gBo9u61
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) October 9, 2022
Caveats apply about facing defenders who are not NHL calibre in defending the rush and a goalie who is not NHL calibre in stopping pucks, but it was nice to see Malgin flash again. It was his only point of the night, but I felt it was another solid showing from the Swiss winger on a line with Nylander during a make-it-or-break-it preseason for him.
That goal gave Toronto the lead 2-1, but it was the only goal of the period. A goaltender interference call on Adam Gaudette was the only penalty of the middle frame, which was another period in which the Leafs outshot and out-chanced Detroit.
The third is when the dam broke open. 5v5 play was close to even, but it was on special teams where the blue and white flexed their muscle and put the game away. Detroit gave Toronto three power play opportunities in the third period and the Maple Leafs converted on all of them — a dazzling display from a man advantage that slumped down the stretch last season.
First, it was Morgan Rielly to Mitch Marner, who teed up Auston Matthews for a missile goal. It was then a Marner pass that set up a shot by Kerfoot — who was occupying John Tavares’ typical spot on the PP — which squibbed to the far side, where William Nylander deposited into the net top shelf. Finally, from the goal line, Morgan Rielly passed it up high to tee up Matthews for one more blast, his second goal of the night.
By the time the shooting gallery on the PP was finished, the Leafs held a 5-1 lead and were thinking ahead to the regular season. They finished three-for-four on the power play for the evening. In total, Toronto outshot the Red Wings 26-19 in a comfortable victory, just as the respective rosters indicated was the inevitable outcome.
As in every game this preseason, much attention was given to the goaltending. Matt Murray was not tested all that much against a weaker Detroit roster tonight, but he looked generally solid. Murray stopped 18 of 19 shots and closed out the preseason having saved 65 of 67 (.970). Combined with Ilya Samsonov stopping 72 of 78 (.917), it’s hard to argue that the Toronto netminders haven’t had a solid preseason. There’s little you can learn from games devoid of true meaning, but those two did as much as they could to give the team confidence in them heading into the regular season.
The checking line of Nick Aube-Kubel, David Kämpf, and Zach Aston-Reese had another strong effort, in your author’s opinion. As we round the corner to the regular season, it would appear that this unit will be Toronto’s fourth line in 2022-23. Yes, Kyle Dubas needs to officially ink Aston-Reese to a full contract (he is currently on a PTO), but it seems to be a foregone conclusion that one will be signed. If Sheldon Keefe opts to roll into the season with those three playing together, it gives the Leafs a line with far more of a cohesive identity than they had last season. 2021-22’s fourth line was a frustrating mish-mash of veterans on their last legs that did not constitute a threat to the opposition on offense or defense. On the other hand, a NAK/Kampf/ZAR line will both lock down the ice defensively and make Toronto harder to play against. That is a net benefit to the squad.
Elsewhere, as stated previously, Denis Malgin’s goal was a highlight of the night. He has dazzled throughout the preseason when given a chance to play with Nylander. Now, the Leafs have a big decision to make. With John Tavares possibly out to start the year, they may be able to keep Malgin to start, but upon the center’s return, the Leafs may need to choose between Malgin and Robertson, risking the possible loss of Malgin on waivers if they opt for the youngster. This was management’s last look at Malgin before decision time, and he gave them something to think long and hard about.
The stars looked like, well, the stars. The puck movement on the power play was phenomenal, moving from Mitch Marner and William Nylander down low to Morgan Rielly and Auston Matthews up high with purpose. Detroit’s penalty killers were off balance all night long and unable to take away passing or shooting lanes. Matthews’ shot looked to be in regular-season form — as did Nylander’s — but I’m not sure anyone is surprised by that. Marner picked up three assists thanks to his PP exploits, as did Rielly. Nylander’s effort tonight closed out a preseason in which he looked like the Leafs’ best player rather consistently.
Tonight also represented the preseason debut of Pierre Engvall and Jake Muzzin following the training camp injuries to both. Engvall did not show up on the score sheet, but he registered three shots on goal, one of which was a shorthanded breakaway chance set up by an Aston-Reese pass. Detroit’s Victor Brattstrom shut Engvall down, but it was good to see the Swede looking healthy and nimble. It seems likely that he will be ready to go in the season opener on Wednesday.
As for Muzzin, he left the game in the first after being clipped in the face, but he returned for the second period. He played 17:31 in total and led the Leafs with three blocked shots — a decent performance in his first game back but also not one that flashed true NHL-level speed from the opposition.
Game Highlights: Leafs 5 vs. Red Wings 1
Sheldon Keefe Post Game: Leafs 5 vs. Red Wings 1
Sheldon Keefe after the preseason finale: “I thought Justin Holl was outstanding tonight — outstanding.”
On Malgin: "If you're him coming into camp and made a checklist of what you want to get accomplished, he did a pretty good job of accomplishing it."https://t.co/MteBn2N0ZZ
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) October 9, 2022