By Stan Smith
I have to say I was thoroughly impressed by the game the Toronto Marlies ‘er Maple Leafs played against the Ottawa Senators in Belleville. When I saw the lineups for both teams I was intrigued, but I also had some worries about whether or not it was a good idea to put Ilya Samsonov into a situation that looked so lopsided in favour of the Senators.
The 6-3 score didn’t surprise me. The fact that it was for the Maple Leafs did.
I can’t possibly list all of the good things I saw in this game. There just isn’t enough room.
I have to start with Nick Robertson. He was as dominant in this game as William Nylander was in the first preseason meeting between these two teams. Unfortunately, the only game stats I can find are the basic, who scored, and who assisted on goals. There is no ice time, shots, hits, etc available for the game.
Robertson did come away with three points in the game, two goals, and an assist. Head coach Sheldon Keefe mentioned earlier in camp that Robertson has to be more than just a shooter, but what a shooter he appears to be. He also appears to be much more.
Denis Malgin played another great game. He looks like a completely different player than he did with his last go-’round with the Maple Leafs. Once again he skated himself out of trouble time and time again. Malgin seems to get himself into situations where he appears to run out of room with the puck but then makes a move, changes direction, or changes his pace, and presto, he is in the clear. There might be a question of whether or not Malgin can keep this up, but I have to see he’s showing signs of being an elite playmaker.
Pontus Holmberg continues to get better and better each game. He does not get the attention that the other players that are fighting for a spot on this roster do. He just quietly goes about playing a solid error-free game, doing all of the little unnoticeable things correctly.
This might be an exaggeration but I thought I saw David Kampf handle the puck more in this game than he did all of last season. Are we seeing something in Kampf we haven’t seen before? All last season he was more of a dump-and-chase type of player. In this game, Kampf carried the puck through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone a number of times with confidence. While he will never be considered a playmaker, we are seeing growth in his game in an area that was not expected.
Alex Steeves and Bobby McMann both made themselves noticeable with and without the puck. They didn’t seem to get a lot of ice time though. Most likely because the Maple Leafs have already decided they are destined for the Marlies and Keefe wanted to see more of the players with a shot at making the roster.
Victor Mete had his best game of the preseason. He had a goal and an assist. After playing his first two games on the right side, Mete returned to his usual left side in this game. He looked more involved in the play than he had in the other preseason games. We can’t help but wonder if the signing of Ramus Sandin had anything to do with Keefe switching Mete to the left side.
There were parts of Ilya Samsonov’s game that could be in each segment of this post. The “good” was that he made some key saves when the Sens were trying to get themselves back into the contest. He also read the play well all night and was ahead of the puck instead of playing catchup most of the time.
We are going right back to Samsonov here. The third Senators’ goal was the type of goal no goalie likes to give up. He was in the proper position to stop the puck. It just got through him.
We aren’t going to talk about the first Ottawa goal here, but there was another time Samsonov turned the puck over giving the Senators a scoring chance. The problem there was not as much his fault as it was the skaters in front of him.
When a goalie comes out of the net to play the puck, the other players on the ice have to give him options. They need to go to the open areas along the boards to give him a place to pass the puck. Mete was tied up with Austin Watson on the one side. Both Kampf and Robertson had the opportunity to make themselves available on the other side but neither of them did. That left Samsonov with only one option, and that was to attempt to ring the puck around the boards. He didn’t get all of it and it ended up in the stick of Dylan Gambrell, who quickly passed it to an open Jake Lucchini who missed the net.
Justin Holl was late coming back on that play leaving Lucchini open. While Holl did have a nice block in the game and scored a 200-footer into the empty net, for a player who was on paper the best Maple Leafs’ defensemen dressed in the game, Holl did not have a great game. He was late getting back on the play we just mentioned. He was also out to lunch on the Sens first goal.
Joey Anderson didn’t have a bad game. With all of the players fighting for spots on the roster, the question is, is he doing enough to keep himself in the conversation? So many other players are standing out. As he is no longer exempt, Anderson could find himself on waivers come the end of camp.
As we stated earlier, Samsonov finds himself in all three segments of this post. The ugliest part of this game for the Maple Leafs was the Senator’s first goal. While Samsonov did not look good on the play he was not alone.
For his part, Samsonov was slow in reacting to the play. He was nonchalant in coming out to play the puck. If he had been quicker, he could have been there before the puck arrived and able to use his skates or his body to corral it, rather than reaching for it with his stick. He was also slow at reacting and getting back into the net once he missed the puck.
The bigger mistakes were made by the skaters in front of him. Gambrell beat Filip Krall to the puck behind the net while neither Holl nor Logan Shaw covered a wide-open Parker Kelly who had a chip shot into the open net.
Overall this was a great performance for the Maple Leafs. It appears that coach Keefe and Kyle Dubas are going to have some tough choices to make next week.