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Bunting, Liljegren impress in Maple Leafs preseason win over Canadiens

Let’s evaluate what we saw

NHL: Preseason-Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs
Sep 25, 2021; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Michael Bunting (58) celebrates scoring a goal during the second period against the Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Arena.
Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs opened their pre-season in good form with a 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens. Jake Muzzin, John Tavares, Michael Bunting, and Kurtis Gabriel all scored for the Leafs, with William Nylander leading the way with two primary assists. The Leafs scored on the power play in the first 10 seconds of their first opportunity. Final shots were 32-17, but shots were 25-5 at one point in the second.

Michael Hutchinson got the win, but didn’t exactly impress. Ian Scott started the third, but he appeared to have suffered a groin injury which forced him out of the game. The kid just can’t catch a break.

Instead of doing a full play-by-play, I thought I would ask myself some questions and see what my answers are during and after the game. It’s the pre-season, the actual gameflow doesn’t matter, it’s all about player performances at this point.

What we Learned

Who stood out?

William Nylander did not look a step different from his performance last playoffs. You will see him all over the highlights at the bottom of this article, he was sifting through Habs like flour and creating a lot of havoc in the offensive zone. He was a calming presence on the penalty kill, too, even if that’s hard to believe. There was a bit of a stark contrast between the 25-year-old and his 20-year-old PK partner Nick Robertson, who was fairly erratic to be honest.

Jake Muzzin showed up, scoring a goal assisted by Nylander and almost getting another in the first period alone. He could’ve taken this game off, but he was looking really good the whole way through, leading the other defensemen by example.

John Tavares doesn’t look any different from last season, which is good news to say the least. I think he missed Nylander a bit as he had to do a lot of the heavy lifting himself with Bunting and Ho-Sang on his wings.

I was impressed with Liljegren, Bunting, Mikheyev, Spezza, and Amadio as well.

Who looked bad?

Alex Kerfoot is an average player with no discernible skills and he showed that lack of visual separation in this game. I saw him a little bit in the first period, but he genuinely disappeared from my vision after the first goal. I worry he is going to lose the role he’s most comfortable in and he’s going to have a bit of a crisis of identity. Kampf is coming up behind him and is a genuine shutdown centre, and there is a glut of wingers in that middle-six zone. I don’t think there’s a 2LW/3LW job for him right now after the nights Bunting and Mikheyev had.

It was hard to find players who were bad in this game as the Leafs were really dominant, but I will say Michael Hutchinson did not fill me with confidence in him in the seven shots he faced over two periods (Ian Scott came in for the third). He was often swimming out of the net, misjudging his movements, and making mistakes. If the Habs were a little better than terrible they might have scored a couple.

I didn’t see SDA much in the game, but he was playing with two goons on the fourth line so I don’t exactly hold that against him. His prospect tourney was great and his real chance will come at Marlies camp.

What is PP1 trying to do?

We didn’t get a chance to see it in the first period...

The Leafs got a power play early in the second and Tavares tipped the first shot on net in! Nylander and Sandin were playing catch until Nylander stepped up and took a low shot, Tavares was right in the shooting lane and tipped it through the pads of Cayden Primeau.

Bunting showed a lot of purpose on the power play, coming in off the bench and taking a quick shot for a deflection. He then went into the corner to find the puck again. I think he could be a good workhorse in all situations, maybe as a bumper man but not in front of the net.

Did Marner show up?

No!

Granted, he didn’t play...

Is Liljegren good enough to play with Muzzin in top minutes? Can Sandin do the same with Brodie

Honestly, Liljegren looked great in this game. Really strong defensively and closed off a lot of offensive plays against. I think he works well with Muzzin and belongs in the NHL. If I’m Travis Dermott I’d be a little worried he’s coming to steal my job. I tweeted during the game that I think Liljegren is a better defender right now. Maybe there’s an argument to be made about their transition hockey, but Liljegren is quite good at cutting off rushes.

As for Sandin, it wasn’t his best game with Brodie, but I also don’t think Brodie had a very good game either. I’m willing to give him some benefit of the doubt. There were a lot of Habs that got behind them in the neutral zone, so I’d be hoping to knock that down. This game definitely didn’t put Rielly’s contract negotiation in the garbage, that’s for sure.

Is Michael Bunting real?

The new winger is a good worker who sees the ice pretty well so you know he’s going to make the right play more often than not. A primary example of that is his goal where you see him make a play at the top of the offensive zone, always keep his head up as he moves to the front of the net, and then place home a perfectly timed pass into the back of the net.

So, do I think Bunting is real? Yes, and he’s the current front-runner for top-six minutes. Currently Mikheyev is not far behind. We’ll see where Nick Ritchie and Ondřej Kaše land in the next game.

Do Kerfoot and Mikheyev actually do anything?

While I think I’ve already covered that Kerfoot showed that he’s a competent NHLer, he doesn’t actually do much. Mikheyev on the other hand seems to have re-wired himself to becoming a net-front presence. He had a great drive on the Muzzin goal in the first period and was getting in the dirty areas at the front of the net on the second power play unit. He’s slowly making a case for himself in the top-six, though he has tough competition in Bunting.

Highlights

William Nylander setting the tone in the first minute of the game.

Kurtis Gabriel also set the tone in his own way.

1-0: Muzzin from Nylander, while Kerfoot was kinda just standing in front of Nylander and Mikheyev driving hard to the net and creating the shooting lane for Muzzin.

Muzzin nearly scored again.

2-0: Tavares from Nylander and Sandin on the power play!

3-0: Bunting from Brodie!

More good plays from Liljegren. I really like him defensively.

Another scoring chance from Bunting.

This was the Habs one good chance in the second period. They had two shots on goal in the period.

Mikheyev getting physical.

Ho-Sang with a breakaway, showing off his hands and almost getting the shot over the shoulder of McNiven.

Jake Muzzin???

4-0: Kurtis Gabriel scores a gimme.