By Stan Smith
The Toronto Marlies and the Laval Rocket, along with a sprinkling of NHL players, got to play a game in the Bell Centre on Friday Night. They even got to wear Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens jerseys while doing so. The Maple Leafs version of the two teams came out on top of the Canadiens version 2-1.
With the first set of cuts expected soon, possibly as early as Sunday, it was most likely the last time a number of these players will get to wear an NHL jersey for a while.
Matthews Knies Erased All Doubts
The best player on the ice for either team was Matthews Knies. If there were any question of whether or not Knies would make the opening game lineup, he is answering it with Spades. He, like the rest of the skaters on the ice, started slow but built momentum as the game progressed.
Knies was a beneficiary of a great steal by Fraser Minton. Minten stripped Justin Barron of the puck behind the Canadiens’ net on the penalty kill and passed it out front to him. Knies fired a laser just under the glove of Montreal goalie Cayden Primeau to open the scoring in the game at 10:23 of the second period.
It is the second game in a row that Knies has been involved in a short-handed Maple Leafs goal. Against Buffalo, he set up Sam Lafferty on a two-on-one while on the PK.
What is just as impressive with Knies’ game is his defensive awareness and his ability to win tight battles in the dirty areas of the ice. At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, and only 20 years old, Knies is only going to get stronger. Also, for a player with that solid build, Knies is quick on his skates.
Fraser Minten Is the Real Deal
As for Minton, it is too bad we won’t see him beyond the preseason. If the only factor that determined whether or not a player would make the big team was the preseason, Minton would be earning a spot on this team. He, along with fellow standout Easton Cowan, who did not suit up for this game, will most likely be headed back to their junior teams and will get a chance to shine in the World Junior Championships at the end of the year.
Mikko Kokkonen Had a Solid Game
Another young player who had a solid game was 22-year-old defenseman Mikko Kokkonen. In 36 games with the Marlies last season Kokkonen failed to score a goal. It took him just two preseason games to get one with the Maple Leafs. His shot from the point at 16:34 of the second period deflected off Montreal’s Owen Beck’s thigh and past Primeau to put the Maple Leafs up 2-0 in the game.
Where Kokkonen really stood out was in the closing minute and a half of the game. With the Maple Leafs down a man after Timothy Liljegren took a delay of game penalty and the Canadiens’ goalie pulled for an extra attacker, Kokkonen blocked three shots. He then tied up Josh Anderson preventing him from playing a puck right in front of the Maple Leafs net. He ignored the puck and kept Anderson tied up. That allowed Minton to play the puck and ice it. Altogether Kokkonen played 5:37 on the penalty kill in the game.
Ilya Samsonov Looked Calm in the Crease
Ilya Samsonov played his first game for the Maple Leafs this preseason. He wasn’t that busy, facing only 15 shots over two periods. He was then replaced by Keith Petruzzelli in the third period. Samsonov did stop them all, and he made it look rather easy.
This game started really slow. There was no real flow to it for the majority of the first period, which is surprising when you consider they played the first nine minutes without a whistle. It did pick up in the second period.
Montreal made it a game with 5:21 left in the third period when they scored to make it 2-1 Toronto. On the play, Noah Gregor, who otherwise had another fairly strong showing, failed to make a play when he had control of the puck in his own zone. It was then knocked off his stick by Sean Monahan.
After losing the puck, Gregor went to the front of the net along with William Lagesson and David Kampf. Unfortunately, all three of them ignored Josh Anderson in the slot. Monohan hit Anderson with a pass from behind the Maple Leafs’ net. Anderson one-timed it behind Petruzzelli.
Nick Robertson Was the Energizer Bunny, But Nada
I debated on whether or not to put this next bit in the good or the bad. Once again Nick Robertson was his usual Energizer Bunny self, using his speed to buzz all over the ice. He led the Maple Leafs with six shots on net. The reason I decided to put this in the “bad” was once again he had nothing to show for it.
The one thing they did mention in the broadcast was his hesitation before getting a shot off. He seems to pause a second once he is in a position to shoot the puck. If you do that you will seldom beat a quality NHL goalie.
In his defence, because of injuries, Robertson has only played in 17 games since the spring of 2022. At this point in his career maybe the best thing for him would be to go down to the Marlies, stay healthy, and work on his game. Robertson does appear to have massive potential.
My Ugly for the Buffalo game was the one terrible power play the Sabres had in which they gave up two goals. For the Canadiens, it was their power play in general. They had six extra-man opportunities in the game, a total of ten minutes, and managed just three shots.
Not only did the Canadiens give up the shorthanded goal but, according to Naturalstattrick.com, the only three High-Danger Scoring Chances when Montreal had the man advantage were all Maple Leafs’ chances. I do feel the need to mention that the majority of players we would usually see on the Montreal power play were not dressed for this game.
The ending of this game could have been really ugly. With Montreal on the power play and only 9.2 seconds left in the game, Fraser Minton got his stick on the puck and iced it, which would have also iced the game. But, one of the linesmen mistakenly blew the play dead.
Instead of Montreal having the puck 200 feet away from the Toronto net with under ten seconds left, there was a faceoff at center ice. The Canadiens won it. They did get the puck into the Maple Leafs zone and had an attempted shot on goal, but time ran out. If they had managed to score on that play, I can imagine no one involved with the Maple Leafs would have been very happy.
These two teams go back at it again tonight in Montreal. I would guess we will see two completely different rosters for both teams.
One interesting aspect of the way the Maple Leafs organization is handling these two games is the group that played last night flew to Montreal and then home again following the game. The group that plays tonight will be flying back to Montreal today.