The Toronto Maple Leafs played their second last preseason game of the season as they took on the visiting Detroit Red Wings at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday night. The Maple Leafs iced a lineup that was the closest to their opening night lineup we have yet seen. The Red Wings lineup consisted more of players fighting for a spot on their roster.
Despite the disparity between the two rosters, this was a close game. Toronto won 4-3 in overtime.
The best player on the ice for either team was William Nylander. He scored the opening goal of the game making a nifty move to draw Detroit goaltender Alex Lyon out of position and shovelling a backhand into the wider open cage. Then Nylander won the game in overtime when his shot from between the hash marks deflected off of Red Wing defender Ben Chiarot’s stick and changed direction on Lyon.
Nylander played the most minutes of any Maple Leafs forward in this game, a total of 20:16. He played 4:00 on the power play and 1:49 on the penalty kill. He tied for the most shots in the game with five. Nylander could have easily added a couple of assists as he set up Mark Giordano for good scoring chances twice on odd-man rushes.
This was by far Nylander’s best game of the preseason. It also happened to be the first game where he played in his usual right-wing spot alongside John Tavares. Does that mean the Nylander-at-center experiment is over? We will have to see.
Minton and Knies
Fraser Minton and Matthews Knies continued their stellar play in this game. Neither one figured into the scoring but both of them were noticeable all night for all the right reasons. They gave the Red Wing players they faced fits all night trying to deal with their voracious forechecking and their relentless pursuit of the puck. Knies has picked up right where he left off before he was injured in last season’s playoffs and Minton is the surprise of the preseason. It is starting to look like the 38th pick in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft might have a legitimate shot of making this team.
The right winger on the line with Knies and Minton was Calle Jarnkrok, who made his first appearance of the preseason after dealing with a sprained neck to start camp. He did not look like he missed a step alongside Knies and Minton.
Pontus Holmberg is fighting for a spot on the roster. His main competition is PTO hopeful Noah Gregor and Marlies’ teammate Nick Robertson. In this game, he moved from his usual center position to the left wing of the fourth line with David Kampf and Ryan Reaves. Holmberg was the best player on the fourth line and the main puck mover.
Jake McCabe and Timothy Liljegren
Jake McCabe and Timothy Liljegren were the top defensive pairing for the Maple Leafs in this game. McCabe led all defensemen in time-on-ice at 22:42. He also had the most penalty-killing time with 2:41. He was physical, blocked a few shots, and even got involved with the offence. Liljegren played a solid game at both ends of the ice and spent close to equal time on the PK (1:58) and the PP (1:46).
Marner and Matthews
You could see that Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews are gradually getting into their groove in this game. Their plays, passing, and general interaction were much more crisp than they have been to this point. Marner set up Nylander on his first goal and set up Matthews perfectly for a one-timer that Matthews blasted past Lyon.
Simon Benoit missed a good portion of camp with a back strain. Hopefully, that is why he seemed a step behind the play all night. To make matters worse, he took three minor penalties in the game. Two of the calls were borderline calls; but, still, he put himself in vulnerable positions in both cases.
I read an article about Benoit when he played for the Anaheim Ducks and the term “dumpster fire” was used in the article when it referred to Benoit’s defensive game. While he brings much-needed physicality, if he can’t keep up that physicality does little good. The best thing for Benoit and the Maple Leafs might be for him to clear waivers, and go down to the Marlies. There he could work with the development staff to see if they can build his game up to the NHL level.
After playing a solid 40 minutes in his first outing, Ilya Samsonov has struggled in his last two preseason starts. Samsonov has allowed eight goals on 49 shots in those two games. That is a 0.837 Save Percentage.
Visually Samsonov has not looked like his usual calm, cool, and collected self. He’s been scrambling at times and has spent as spent too much time off his skates swimming around in his crease. Another issue he added in this game was the inability to hold onto his goal stick.
Keefe stated the plan was for Joseph Woll to get the start in the Maple Leafs’ last preseason game on Saturday in Detroit. That gives Samsonov five days to work on his game before the home opener on October 11th. It will be interesting to see if Woll plays a stellar game in that start. If so, then who does Keefe go to in the first regular season game?
The second goal Samsonov let in wasn’t very pretty as he was beaten cleanly by an unscreened shot by Jonaton Berggren. The ugliest goal of the night was the Red Wings’ third goal. Samsonov went behind his net to play a Detroit dump-in. Two seconds later the puck was in his net.
Samsonov put an attempted pass to McCabe right on the stick of Joe Veleno. Veleno hit Dominik Shine in front of the unattended net.
Some semblance of the Maple Leafs will travel to Detroit to take on the Red Wings on Saturday night. Keefe stated after this game that most of the players who played in this game would not be making the trip to Motor City. The game will most likely involve those players who are fighting for one of the few available spots on the final roster. And, it should be a good test as the Red Wings are predicted to be icing a roster that is close to their regular season roster.
John Klingberg, who skated for the first time since suffering an upper-body injury earlier in camp, is hoping to be able to play. Keefe expressed his doubts as to whether or not that would happen. It does seem like giving Klingberg the extra five days to fully recover might be the better idea.
Liljegren has played well in the top four alongside McCabe. As a result, giving Klingberg additional rest and then slotting him alongside Mark Giordano on the third pair against the Canadiens might be the more prudent decision.