By Stan Smith

The preseason is officially over. Now it is on to the real hockey games. I struggle to write a report on this game, especially writing about anything “Bad” or “Ugly.” Everyone who played in this game for the Maple Leafs, and I do mean everyone, is struggling to either keep their dreams of becoming an NHL regular alive or struggling to remain an NHL regular.  

On top of that, this was a David and Goliath match. It was literally the Toronto Marlies versus the Detroit Red Wings. The most talented player on the Maple Leafs might have been Fraser Minten, a 19-year-old who has never played a real NHL game. 

But, as I stated in an earlier post, my aim is to report on this game and what happened within the game the same as I would any other game. 

Related: 3 Reasons Nick Robertson Is Moving to the Toronto Marlies

Joseph Woll, The Good And The Bad

Joseph Woll had a kind of a Jekyll and Hyde kind of game. He was the Maple Leafs’ best player in the first period. Woll stopped the first 14 shots he faced in the game, many of which were decent scoring chances. Woll looked much more in control for the first 37 minutes of this game than Ilya Samsonov did in his last two starts. 

Joseph Woll, Maple Leafs goalie

In the third period, for the most part, the Red Wings were buzzing in the Toronto end. Woll was stellar. He made numerous saves and robbed both Christian Fischer and Lucas Raymond of what looked like sure goals. Woll stopped 13 of the 14 shots he faced in the third period, giving up what was essentially a power-play goal five minutes into the period. 

Sandwiched in between those two time periods was two and a half minutes of hell. The Red Wings scored three goals on four shots in those two-and-a-half minutes. I can write about bad bounces, deflections, and the dreadful play in front of him. Still, Woll did seem to lose his focus in that stretch and he did appear to get a bit rattled.

I don’t know if anything was said to him between the 2nd and 3rd periods or if he just had a chance to “shake it off” and get refocused; but, as I stated earlier, he was stellar in the third period and ultimately gave the Maple Leafs a chance to make it a close game late in the third.

More Maple Leafs Good

Who would have thought that the best two Maple Leafs players production-wise would be AHLers Max Ellis and Tommy Miller? Each player had a goal and an assist in the game and they were the reason the Maple Leafs built up a 2-0 lead in the second period before it all went to hell. 

Max Ellis and Tommy Miller

The 23-year-old Ellis opened the scoring with a wrist shot that (probably shouldn’t have) beat the Red Wings’ goalie on his glove side. He then got up after being steamrolled by Moritz Seider, won a battle for the puck, and got it back to Miller at the point before heading to the front of the net. Once in front of the goal, Ellis created havoc for both Husso and Seider. Miller’s wrist shot from the ricocheted off of both of Seider’s legs past Husso into the net. 

One amazing note about Ellis and the 24-year-old Miller is both players are Detroit natives. Ellis is from Plymouth and Miller is from West Bloomfield. Both are subdivisions of the city. This game and those goals had to be the highlight of their hockey careers so far. 

Miller isn’t even signed to an NHL contract. He is on his second one-year AHL deal with the Marlies. Ellis is in the second year of a two-way ELC deal with the Maple Leafs. Both are long shots to ever make the NHL. 

After going down 4-2, the Maple Leafs made a game of it late in the third period. With Woll pulled the Maple Leafs were the beneficiary of a questionable interference call off a faceoff in the Detroit zone. Playing 6-on-4 Sam Lafferty made a nifty move, skating backward from behind the Red Wings’ net and beating Husso over his left pad. 

The Red Wings were called again, this time for a phantom hold on Seider with 28 seconds left in the game but were unable to get the equalizer. 

All in all, it was a pretty gutsy performance by a severely outclassed group of players. 

Related: 4 Takeaways from Maple Leafs’ 4-3 OT Win Against the Red Wings

The Bad

The most obvious “Bad” for the Maple Leafs was the two-and-half minutes to end the second period. It goes to show the importance of trying to play a full 60 minutes. Any team in the NHL is capable of making you pay dearly in a short period of time. 

Three players who are fighting for a roster spot were all on the receiving end of three of the four Red Wings’ goals. Noah Gregor, Pontus Holmberg, and Lafferty were all minus three in the game.  

The Ugly

It took eight preseason games to get here but for the first report this season I have the say the refereeing in this game was atrocious. The missed calls, phantom calls, and questionable calls on both sides were too many to mention. It makes me wonder if the referees in the game were also on the fringe and fighting for a job in the league. If it was they appeared to be overmatched by the pace of the game and the players playing it. 

Other Notes

After the game when asked about the fate of Fraser Minton head coach Sheldon Keefe replied:

“Our situation, as you know is complex. There is a lot that goes into it. If there are no roster limitations or salary cap, I think there is no question that he would remain here and we would give him an opportunity to get some regular-season time and grow through that.

But it is not that easy of a decision. It is complex. There is a lot at play — some I understand, and some that I don’t. Brad [Treliving], Brandon [Pridham], and the management team will sort through all of those things.”

To me, that sounds like “Coach-Speak” telling Minton you played great but you are heading back to the Kamloops Blazers. 

This was probably Minton’s worst game of the preseason. But it stands to reason it would be seeing as it was against a full NHL team and he was without Matthews Knies for the first time. Minton still showed some flashes in the game.  

If the purpose of this game was to give a final grade to the players fighting for a spot on the roster, no one stood out either way. No one looked either negative or positive. 

As for who starts the game on Wednesday, if Samsonov wasn’t already anointed as the starter and there truly was a battle in the preseason between him and Woll, I thought that Woll looked the better of the two. And that despite the meltdown late in the second period of this last game. If it wasn’t for that two and half minutes I would have stated I expected Woll to start. Now we will have to see.

What’s Next?

All NHL teams have to have their rosters finalized by 5:00 p.m. Monday, whatever that means. There is nothing stopping a team from making roster changes anytime other than Christmas. It does mean that players will be sent down to the various minor leagues or sent back to Juniors Some players will be placed on waivers.  

The deadline does mean the waiver players will have to be placed on waivers today. There is also the possibility the Maple Leafs could make a trade or two. 

Related: Maple Leafs’ 5 Best-Case Scenarios for Matthew Knies in 2023-24

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