Against a weak Red Wings lineup, the Maple Leafs’ big dogs did enough to get the job done thanks to goals at four-on-four (William Nylander), on the power play (Matthews), and in three-on-three OT (Nylander again), to go along with Tyler Bertuzzi’s unofficial first as a Leaf at five-on-five.
The Leafs mostly controlled the game as expected, although there were a few let-off spells when they were struggling to exit the zone cleanly and lost their structure quickly in the defensive zone, particularly late in the first period. The team really turned it on in the third period and tilted the ice in dominant fashion before finishing the job at three-on-three OT.
A few post-game notes:
– Another solid game for the Jake McCabe – Timothy Liljegren pairing. These numbers don’t mean much of anything in the preseason against mostly an AHL lineup, but it doesn’t get much better than 15-2 in shot attempts, 5-0 in shots on goal, and a 92% expected goals. That’s two games in which they have kept a clean sheet, played most of the game on offense, and defended well when they had to. Sheldon Keefe initially penciled McCabe in with John Klingberg (not an amazing sounding fit on paper), but Klingberg has missed vital preseason time which would’ve allowed him to become more acquainted with the systems/teammates, and he needs to be built up slowly confidence-wise; it might make sense to roll with this pairing instead and leave Klingberg on a more sheltered bottom pair with Mark Giordano for the time being.
– It’s important to note that Fraser Minten’s most frequent matchups tonight were Nate Danielson (a WHL grad he’d have seen lots of in Kamloops), Dominik Shane (career AHLer), and Klim Kostin (NHL tweener). But there is definitely something to be said for being effective inside the full lineup with nine minutes and change in five-on-five ice time and 13 minutes in total. He previously acquitted himself well in the two games in Montreal with matchups that included Josh Anderson, Sean Monahan, Nick Suzuki, and Cole Caufield for a decent load of minutes. He’s clearly a very intelligent player who is frequently in the right spots and anticipates the play quickly/really well, which helps put his line on the right side of the rink throughout the game. He took care of the faceoff circle very well at 77%. He’ll get another look on Saturday against the Red Wings’ stronger lineup to make the decision even harder on the brass.
– Definitely Pontus Holmberg’s best showing of the preseason with a couple of penalties drawn in just 10 minutes of action. You actually noticed him tonight for his skating, a few drives to the net, and generally being hard on pucks. Sizing up the top call-up options, Robertson is a better fit in a scoring role, but Holmberg is arguably a better fit in a bottom-of-the-lineup capacity. A team can never have enough quality depth centers, and the Leafs are beginning to find themselves in a position where they have a number of good C options that they can stash on the wing. It’s really handy that Holmberg is still waiver-exempt also.
– Tough to get a late start at camp due to injury, but those are the breaks, and Simon Benoit has not overcome it well enough. There were a couple of debatable-to-very-soft calls in there, but he took three penalties and has been spending quite a bit of time in his own end while looking a step behind. He’s almost certainly played his way onto the waiver wire.
– Mighty impressive how Matthew Knies has immediately gone from college to (likely) impact NHLer who can play both sides of special teams as needed. He has had a few issues with his reads at times on the PK (his man snuck in behind him and scored in Montreal), but he is getting better and better there by the game and could definitely help fill the void left by Alex Kerfoot when called on (Kerfoot was third most used on the PK among Leafs forwards). His wingspan, speed, and puck-thieving ability (great at lifting sticks) all make him effective there. He’s created multiple shorthanded scoring chances in preseason.
– Speaking of shorthanded scoring chances, Auston Matthews really should have a shorty this preseason with the opportunities he’s created, including one tonight on a wraparound that just stayed out. It will be interesting to see if and how they spot him in on the PK in the regular season; it’s likely best done situationally and in short bursts. No doubt, his presence on the ice is something the opposition will be keenly aware of — the ability to hoover up pucks/swat them down, the obvious terrifying threat offensively, etc. — and it would unsettle a PK unit even when it’s not leading to offense directly. If he can be spotted in here and there and still be able to hop on after PKs to exploit those mismatches, it would be the ideal situation. Otherwise, if it’s coming at the expense of high-leverage five-on-five shifts, it’s a tradeoff where they have to figure out if they’re really netting out ahead vs. using a Knies, or whoever else there.
– Definitely a positive for Tyler Bertuzzi to see a puck go in the net before the regular season starts. It was a gift from the Red Wings defenseman, but he finished it off really well. It seems like this line is still feeling each other out at five on five, but they had some good sequences in the third period, so there are some signs of progression there. Bertuzzi is not exactly a player who shines his brightest in preseason intensity with linemates who are mostly looking to get through it without injury. The real evaluation starts next Wednesday.
– Ilya Samsonov’s last two games have not been his sharpest. It’s looked too busy and chaotic in the crease, and he’s let in eight goals on just 49 total shots. It’s just preseason, but hopefully, in the week of practice work coming up, he can clean it up, settle in, and quiet down in time for the season opener.
Sheldon Keefe Post Game, Maple Leafs 4 vs. Red Wings 3 (OT)
Sheldon Keefe on Ryan Reaves' first preseason as a Leaf: "I've been really happy with him. No matter who we've played him with, his line has been one of our best."
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) October 6, 2023
Toronto Maple Leafs Lineup
#59 Tyler Bertuzzi – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#11 Max Domi – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#23 Matthew Knies – #39 Fraser Minten – #19 Calle Jarnkrok
#29 Pontus Holmberg – #64 David Kampf – #75 Ryan Reaves
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#22 Jake McCabe – #2 Simon Benoit
#55 Mark Giordano – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#35 Ilya Samsonov
#60 Joseph Woll
Detroit Red Wings Lineup
Soderblom – Veleno – Fischer
Berggren – Danielson – Kostin
Doucet – Lombardi – Hirose
Spezia – Bliss – Sawchuk
Gostisbehere – Chiarot
Johansson – Holl
Wallander – Rafferty