By Stan Smith
I want to start out by stating that I mistakenly wrote that this game was going to be played in the 377-seat arena in West Lorne, Ontario. It was part of their prize for winning the Kraft Hockeyville contest earlier this year.
But the rink was deemed too small for the event. So, it was moved to the 2,500-seat Joe Thornton Arena in St. Thomas, about 40 minutes East of West Lorne. I admit I wondered how it could work holding an NHL game with full TV coverage in a rink so small. It turns out it did not work.
The first and best good thing about this game is that the Maple Leafs won it. They defeated the Buffalo Sabres 5-2 in the contest. The score was indicative of the game. It was a pretty one-sided affair.
The Maple Leafs outshot the Sabres 41 to 15 in the game. The shots were spread out evenly throughout the game as well, 14-4 in period one, 14-6 in the second period, and 13-5 in the third.
Conor Timmins Was The Story of the Game
The individual story of this game was the play of Conor Timmins. He followed up his two-assist performance in his first preseason game. In this game, he scored two goals and added two assists (for four points). That gave him six points (2 goals, 4 assists) in two games.
We do realize that it is the preseason and against rosters that are filled with players who will not be playing in the NHL once the regular season starts. Still, for a player who is fighting just to be relevant and to remain on this team beyond training camp, Timmins’ play is forcing the Maple Leafs to make some tough decisions about the opening-day roster.
I have to add that the four points Timmins had in this game were not “cheap” points. He didn’t just happen to be in the right place at the right time.
His first point was a goal to open the scoring in the game. It was a lucky kind of goal, a floating shot from the point that may or may not have been tipped by John Tavares. Tavares did get his stick close enough to the shot that it distracted Sabres’ goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen enough that he misplayed the shot, having it bounce off of his blocker and into the net.
Timmins’ second point was a nice stretch pass right on the tape of Max Domi. Domi was coming out of the penalty box and went off on a breakaway. Domi beat Luukkonen on his blocker side to put the Maple Leafs up 3-1 in the second period.
Points #3 & #4
Timmins’ third point happened in the third period when he made a nice defensive play to step in front of Peyton Krebbs to gain possession of the puck just outside the Maple Leafs blueline. He then used his speed to get around Ryan Johnson and find Kyle Clifford alone in front of the Sabre net to make the score 4-2 Toronto.
His second goal and fourth point came on a power play late in the game. After winning a draw in the left side of the Sabres zone, Pontus Holmberg passed the puck over to Easton Cowan on the right side of the ice. Cowan relayed the puck back to Timmins who blasted it passed Michael Houser. Houser had earlier replaced Luukonen in the third period.
The only Maple Leafs goal that Timmins wasn’t involved in was a shorthanded goal by Sam Lafferty. That put the Maple Leafs up 2-1 in the second.
Other Noted Players: Knies & Lafferty
Other noticeable players in this game were Mathews Knies, who assisted on Timmins’ goal in the first period, and Lafferty’s shorthanded goal, and Lafferty who also had a two-point night. Lafferty also assisted on Timmins’ goal in the first.
Fraser Minton had another strong game and managed an assist on the Clifford goal. Noah Gregor seems to be on his way to earning a contract with his play.
Timothy Liljegren Was Solid
I thought Timothy Liljegren had a silent but effective game. I counted five times he was in the right place to break up plays defensively. Liljegren and Jake Mccabe looked like bystanders in front of Martin Jones when they could have been making an effort to prevent a shot from the point by Henri Jokiharju from getting to the net, but overall I thought Liljegren had a strong defensive game.
Don’t get me wrong, Martin Jones did not have a bad game. But on the first Buffalo goal, he got beat cleanly by Jeremy Davies on an unscreened shot from the top of the right faceoff circle. It was a shot he should have stopped. He got the win and made some key saves but two goals on fifteen shots is still only a 0.867% Save Percentage.
John Klingberg left the game at 9:52 of the first period and didn’t return. After passing the puck to Cowan on an innocent-looking play, he reached behind his back with his right hand as if he tweaked something. The funny thing was the broadcast team didn’t notice Klingberg was no longer in the game until late in the second period. They even failed to notice he was not out for a power play late in the first period.
This was ugly if you were a Buffalo Sabres fan. With the score tied 1-1 in the second period Buffalo probably figured they had a good chance to take the lead when Domi took a high-sticking penalty midway through the period. Unfortunately for them, just over two minutes later the score was 3-1 Toronto after Lafferty’s shorty and Timmins sending Domi in alone when he exited the box.
Noah Gregor is auditioning for a bottom-six role with the Maple Leafs on a PTO. He has played pretty well. He also might have gotten a bit of a break when it was announced before the game that Dylan Gambrell had suffered a concussion in practice. Gambrell is the player that Gregor would most likely have to beat out of the spot.
I have to ask where is TJ Brodie? He has not played in any of the three preseason games. In addition, I have not heard or read a single word about him.
We might be a little sick of the Montreal Canadiens after this weekend. The Maple Leafs play the Canadiens three times in four nights. The first two games are Friday and Saturday in Montreal. The third meeting is back in Toronto on Monday.
It will be interesting to see when the Maple Leafs make their first cuts. If I was to guess I would say Sunday after the back-to-back games in Montreal. We will have to see.