The Maple Leafs fell to the Ottawa Senators by a score of 3-2 in the exhibition opener, but there was a definite positive in the performance of the Max Domi – William Nylander duo, a scoreless game from both notwithstanding.
After a decent start (5-0 in shots) including a scoreless but reasonably bright power play early in the first period, the Maple Leafs were thoroughly outplayed for the remainder of the opening frame, outshot 24-7 and outscored 2-0.
Following a William Villeneuve slashing penalty halfway through the first period, the Senators’ power play struck quickly through Brady Tkachuk at the front of the net, where the Leafs were loose and soft for the better part of 30 seconds before the damage was finally done.
Late in the period, an all-Marlies line of Logan Shaw, Max Ellis, Roni Hirvonen, Maxime Lajoie, and William Villeneuve couldn’t get out of their own end before Tim Stutzle hopped the boards against a tired Leafs unit and ripped a second goal past Keith Petruzzelli.
There were very few positives to point out in the first period from the Toronto perspective as the Leafs were bogged down in their own end quite often and outcompeted in puck battles down low in their defensive zone.
The script flipped in the second period, where the Leafs outshot the Senators 17-4 and fought back to tie the game 2-2. It started with a nice shift around five minutes into the middle frame from Fraser Minten, who turned over a couple of pucks on the forecheck, an effort that was followed up line after line as the Leafs started establishing their forecheck and forcing turnovers out of the Senators.
Halfway through the middle frame, a half-wall puck battle won by the legs of Sam Lafferty and the digging of Matthew Knies freed up Conor Timmins at the point to shift it over to William Lagesson, who curled inside the top of the left circle and beat Anton Forsberg at his far post (good timing on the screen from Dylan Gambrell).
The Maple Leafs continued to press and earned a number of power plays, including an abbreviate 5-on-3, which didn’t amount to much but was salvaged back at 5-on-4 courtesy of Alex Steeves. The 23-year-old showed patience at the top of the circle to outwait the shot blocker, pull it inside, and rip a nice shot into the far side of the net past Forsberg.
Unfortunately, a late-period Kyle Clifford goaltending interference penalty — a borderline call as Clifford went hard to the net but was helped in by the defenseman — halfway undid the Leafs’ hard work in the frame. It led to another inch-perfect Tim Stutzle shot, this time off the bar from the PP half-wall to make it 3-2 Senators through 40 minutes.
The score stayed that way in the third period, which was a 50-50 final frame for the most part with a lot of neutral-zone play and not much sustained offensive-zone time either way. The Leafs’ best chances were created by the Max Domi and William Nylander combination both early in the period — seconds in, Nylander hopped on a turnover in the middle of the offensive zone and nearly set up Domi at the far post, but they didn’t quite connect — and then late on in the dying seconds when Domi found Nylander with a nice saucer pass across the offensive zone off of an entry but Nylander couldn’t convert.
Post Game Notes
– Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the offensive-zone time and scoring chances the Leafs generated in this game came courtesy of the William Nylander line. Nylander and Max Domi showed early signs of chemistry, finding each other often and creating instant offensive opportunities off of turnovers they forced in the offensive and neutral zones. Domi had a number of nice moments showing strength in his puck pursuits and puck protection before picking out Steeves or Nylander for a look.
The line generated 10 of the Leafs’ 15 scoring chances at five-on-five. Domi won three of five draws; Nylander eight of 14. Nylander recorded five shots on net. Take it with a grain of salt with it being AHL lineups for the most part and the first competitive action in many months for both sides, but it was a good start for the Domi-Nylander duo with Nylander lining up at C.
– Keith Petruzzelli played the first 40 minutes and allowed the three Senators goals on 28 shots, but that was an unfair reflection of his overall play in net. He got hung out to dry on the 1-0 goal, and the other two were difficult goals to stop off of the stick of Tim Stutzle. We only saw 20 minutes of Dennis Hildeby, a 6’7 giant who is an intriguing prospect. He’s still quite young by goalie prospects standards at 22 and put up great numbers in the SHL the past two seasons. He made a huge post-to-post stop on Stutzle to keep the Leafs in this game in the third.
– Playing down the lineup, recently turned 19-year-old Fraser Minten managed to win five of his six draws and generate a couple of takeaways as well as three shots on goal. If he could add a step to his skating, the maturity of his game/hockey IQ and work ethic give the Leafs development staff a lot to work with. A good shift from Minten on the forecheck helped get the momentum turned in the Leafs’ favour early in the second period. He’s earned high praise from the Leafs staff in Traverse City through to Sheldon Keefe’s positive encouragement at the start of training camp.
– It wasn’t a clean game all the way through — a sloppy first period (along with the rest of the team), but they settled in nicely as it went along — for Timothy Liljegren and Morgan Rielly, but it was good to see the coaching staff giving them reps together in the preseason to the tune of 22 minutes of shared ice time (they were on the PP unit together as well). The whole mix on defense starts to make a lot more sense — or at least it opens up some credible additional options — if the Leafs could turn to this pairing throughout the season. John Klingberg could roll with Mark Giordano in a sheltered bottom pairing, and Jake McCabe and TJ Brodie could take on some tough minutes together inside the top four as they did in the playoffs at points when Rielly was lining up with Luke Schenn.
– After a sloppy first period from Conor Timmins, he managed to notch a couple of assists and a couple of shots on goal — a typical Timmins game, as it were. He then reportedly left to the dressing room not long before the end of the game, according to the Sportsnet broadcast. The waiver-eligible defenseman is facing an uphill battle to stay on the roster with the cap situation being what it is, and injuries have been his biggest undoing since turning pro. We’ll wait for the report (it might’ve been nothing more than an equipment issue) and hope for the best.
Update: “It looks like we got through the game healthy as far as I know,” said Keefe after the game.
Sheldon Keefe Post Game: Senators 3 vs. Maple Leafs 2
On the team’s response after the first period:
I liked that they stayed with it. It was an opportunity to take a breath between periods. We recognized where we were going wrong in that first.
I thought we got off to an excellent start. We had the first five shots of the game. A good power play got some momentum for us. We took a couple of penalties in a row there kind of at the midway point of the period, and their best people really got rolling there. The rest of their team really fed off of that.
Coming in between periods gave us a chance to regroup. We wanted to get back on the attack as we had started the first. The guys did a nice job.
On his surprises/disappointments:
I certainly wasn’t disappointed in anything. I really liked our second and third periods. I thought we had some really strong efforts. Guys really worked hard today. This is day four in a row coming out of a really difficult camp. The guys really worked, which was good.
It looks like we got through the game healthy as far as I know. That is really important. I thought we got some really good efforts from a lot of the guys.
Toronto Maple Leafs Lineup
Max Domi – William Nylander – Alex Steeves
Matthew Knies – Dylan Gambrell – Sam Lafferty
Roni Hirvonen – Logan Shaw – Max Ellis
Kyle Clifford – Fraser Minten – Josiah Slavin
Morgan Rielly – Timothy Liljegren
William Lagesson – Conor Timmins
Maxime Lajoie – William Villeneuve
Ottawa Senators Lineup
Brady Tkachuk – Tim Stützle – Claude Giroux
Matthew Highmore – Rourke Chartier – Josh Bailey
Parker Kelly – Mark Kastelic – Zach MacEwen
Jiri Smejkal – Roby Jarventie – Egor Sokolov
Jake Sanderson – Artem Zub
Tyler Kleven – Jacob Bernard-Docker
Jorian Donovan – Nikolas Matinpalo