Boy, oh boy was it ever nice to watch some Toronto Maple Leafs hockey, even if it was just a scrimmage. The work done with the operations team and having refs and everything, made it feel as close to a preseason game as it possibly could.
One of the many quirks this year is the fact the training camp is only 10 days and nobody gets to play any exhibition games. The Leafs are doing what they can with the cards dealt, and last night the team showed they’re going to have a couple Aces up their sleeves.
News & Notes from Saturday Night:
Nick Robertson looked much stronger and faster on his skates. He’s been in Toronto since the playoffs ended and has been as committed as anyone to his craft. Head coach Sheldon Keefe even went as far to mention Robertson is the most committed player he’s ever seen out of junior. Big words coming from a one-time junior star.
Here’s Robertson blasting one by Aaron Dell, and we can expect to see Robertson be the first forward called up from the taxi-squad:
Speaking of Aaron Dell, he looked a touch shaky, while Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell looked pretty solid respectively. Especially in the shootouts after each period, which if you think about it, will be vital this season. The fact you’re playing the same teams over and over again, means the overtime and shootout points are as meaningful as ever. As for Dell, he’ll be the taxi-squad goaltender and will only see action if there’s an injury.
Leafs looked great with the man advantage
The new look powerplays were moving the puck well, taking the ‘right’ shots and assistant coach Manny Malhotra should be given some credit for their new wrinkles. The first unit of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds and Morgan Rielly looked solid. Simmonds is going to do wonders in front of the net and there’s certainly a fun chemistry to watch between Jumbo, Matthews and Marner. The slightly adjusted set up from Malhotra means Marner and Matthews can interchange either side and their teammates are noticing:
Auston and Mitch on the flanks are elite – Defenseman Morgan Rielly commenting on what he sees from PP1
The second unit of Jason Spezza/Nick Robertson, Mikko Lehtonen, John Tavares, William Nylander and Zach Hyman scored two goals and Nylander may have been the best player on the ice Saturday night. If the Leafs struggle you know everyone and their mother will blame it on Willy, because Jake Gardiner and Dion Phaneuf aren’t around anymore. But there’s certainly a very good chance Nylander has a monster season.
One thing I noticed after the game was Coach Keefe’s comments about Pierre Engvall. The big-Swede middle-man was in the third-line center spot for the injured Alexander Kerfoot, and even though he scored a nice goal, his coach wasn’t to thrilled with his game:
I expect better from Pierre, to be honest, just in terms of his play with the puck. We’ve got to just kind of redirect him towards the other end of the ice. But I thought he skated, he worked well, it was nice to see him score a big goal — I think we might be coming up, if not past, the one-year anniversary of his last goal. So it was good to see that and get the confidence going in that sense. I was hoping for better from him.
The Leafs get ready now to faceoff opening night on Wednesday against a very confident Montreal Canadiens team. Here’s what you can expect to see as far as the Leafs lineup goes for opening night:
Thornton Matthews Marner
Vesey Tavares Nylander
Mikheyev Kerfoot/Engvall Hyman
Barabanov Spezza Simmonds
The Taxi-Squad will likely feature Travis Dermott, Rasmus Sandin, Aaron Dell, Travis Boyd, Joey Anderson and Pierre Engvall once Alex Kerfoot is healthy.
Get ready Leafs Nation, three days until we get to enjoy something special! Auston Matthews is likely to win all the awards this year, Freddie Andersen is in a contract year and going to play out of his mind, and Morgan Rielly is poised to be in the Norris conversation at year’s end.
What a time to be alive.