Wednesday night the Maple Leafs played a team calling themselves the Montréal Canadiens and won 3-0 on goals by Nick Robertson, Denis Malgin and Nick Abruzzese. Most preseason games don’t teach you much, but to get anything out of this one, you have to start out knowing the Canadiens were almost entirely prospects, AHLers and rookies. They weren’t good, and they did not seem to be playing any discernable system. Their offensive skills are clearly their strength, and they had some dangerous chances on the way to 27 SOG to the Leaf’s 29.
Matt Murray was supposed to be the story of the game, but he was boringly good, making a few key saves, and showing a couple of signs of indecision that didn’t cost him. No goalie is perfect in preseason, but Ilya Samsonov and Matt Murray have each played 40 minutes, faced 16 shots on goal, and saved them all. I’ll leave you to you own devices to look up Expected Goals on that, I consider that taking these games a little too seriously.
The defence had a chance to work with their (other) new goalie, so that was also the point of this game. Morgan Rielly described Murray as a big communicator after the game, and he needed to be since this is what happened to the depth:
The last time we saw Jordie Benn pic.twitter.com/HNc89DNDXJ— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) September 29, 2022
The last time we saw Carl Dahlstrom pic.twitter.com/uLojTO80zD— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) September 29, 2022
Benn has a groin injury and Dahlstrom has a shoulder injury. Both will miss some time, per Keefe. More evaluation to come.— David Alter (@dalter) September 29, 2022
Benn is on the play-by-play at 51 seconds in, landing a hit, and that’s the end of his contributions. He left deeper into the first period. Dahlström blocked a shot and took a hit from Juraj Slafkovský, before going down a bit later injured, leaving four defencemen for the majority of the second and the third.
As we learned after the game, Sheldon Keefe didn’t ask around, he just pointed his finger and Alexander Kerfoot and Calle Järnkrok became defencemen. They played together a little then with Rielly and TJ Brodie, and they joked about it after the game — Kerfoot said he just tried to avoid skating backwards — but the choice is informative.
Keefe clearly likes these guys, and had been playing them together — something Kerfoot sounded genuinely enthusiastic about. These are the new style “good pros” for the new style of hockey team, and it’s past time we wrapped our heads around this concept. A good pro is versatile, and can, as Kerfoot said, translate playing centre or the low forward into a credible job as emergency defender. They play centre or either wing, they do whatever is asked of them, and they aren’t surprised that the team isn’t arranged around their needs. Keefe didn’t ask for volunteers, he picked the guys who could and would jump right in.
Naturally the chattering classes wanted to make up a rule because no team has ever lost a couple of guys in a game until it happens to Toronto:
Shhhh, we're having fun now.— Pension Plan Puppets (@PPPLeafs) September 29, 2022
But seriously, it's good for young players vying for a job to see Järnkrok and Kerfoot just step up, er, back. To commit to it, to play the whole game no matter what comes at you. And there's lots of guys to slot into the next game to rest them. https://t.co/BB1PHT8wqx
Mike Johnson (great guy) is speaking from a player’s point of view, and sure, Kerfoot and Järnkrok wanted a full game playing as forwards together, and no one wants the stars of the team working too hard in preseason. But it’s not like Auston Matthews was even in the game, and William Nylander logged 20:23 minutes, the most of all forwards, which is not going to do him harm. Curtis Douglas, on the fourth line, got 13 minutes, more than he was hoping for, I’m sure, and that’s also not hurting anyone. Keefe was forced to play Victor Mete 19:22 minutes, which was good for Mete to get the feel for this team he’d like to be on on opening day. Keefe agrees maybe an extra player would be good, but he also admitted he was having fun.
Enough about the forwards playing defence, how about the forwards playing forward:
NICK ROBERTSON 🚨— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) September 28, 2022
what a shot pic.twitter.com/XrwzLYzGCL
Nick Robertson: He scored! It was pretty, and while the broadcast was going on about his bona fides as a prospect he turned it over right in front of Murray. He also took the puck in offside on the power play while commentators were gushing over him. He took a penalty while they were at it again in the second period. It was mostly happenstance, but it is true that:
NRob Giveth, and NRob Giveth Away...— Ale-STAN-dro Kirk (@brigstew86) September 28, 2022
Keefe gave him a full and fair chance to shine as a forward up the lineup and the results — remember the competition — were mixed. Keefe described it as Robertson trying to do too much at times.
Denis Malgin 🚨— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) September 29, 2022
Tic Tac Toe pic.twitter.com/FWtbPoFV8W
Denis Malgin: He scored! It was pretty, and he did a lot of other things too. He played with Nylander on the top line mostly with Pontus Holmberg, but Robertson swapped in late in the game. Malgin looked (what are you supposed to remember?) very able around the net. He’s quick thinking, fast on his feet, smart, agile, and he was making the kinds of plays that get the puck in the net. He will not clear waivers, so he’s NHL bound one way or another.
Alex Steeves: He did not score, but he looked very good in this game playing second line minutes. He had the assist on Malgin’s power play goal as well. He’s got first callup written all over him.
The rest of the crowd left little impression. No one looked bad, and Bobby McMann sure can skate, so it’s not impossible to imagine him in a game some February night on the road. But no one stood out dramatically. Some of the things that will keep Holmberg in the AHL for a bit, for all his hockey sense and positional intelligence, were obvious in this game, but he’s certainly worthy of top six in preseason.
Calle Järnkrok is coach’s favourite one week into training camp, that’s the main lesson.
The full post game media, if you want to hear Kerfoot and Keefe’s full comments: