NHL hockey is back on the menu! Well, for the most part. Preseason NHL hockey is back on the menu, and the Toronto Maple Leafs were among the first to serve it against the Montreal Canadiens, the team that delivered them much anguish a few months prior.
Obviously, a preseason game won’t reverse the pain of a playoff series, particularly when both teams are running mixed rosters of NHL and AHL talents. But a 4-1 victory is at least a foot forward, particularly when the process matches the result.
Michael Bunting – John Tavares – Josh Ho-Sang
Ilya Mikheyev – Alex Kerfoot – William Nylander
Nick Robertson – Michael Amadio – Jason Spezza
Rich Clune – Semyon Der-Arguchintsev – Kurtis Gabriel
Jake Muzzin – Timothy Liljegren
Rasmus Sandin – TJ Brodie
Filip Kral – Mac Hollowell
- The depth players came out to play last night, which is very good for a team who wants as many effective, cheap options as possible. Even if you ignore the confirmation-bias of Bunting scoring, he was showing NHL-level play anticipation. Josh Ho-Sang was moving well and collaborating with his teammates that makes you think that even if he doesn’t make the team, he’s getting a contract. Michael Amadio even looked like someone who could fill in time if need be.
- Kurtis Gabriel had himself a fun night, picking up a surprisingly nifty goal and dropping the gloves with Brandon Baddock. Naturally, the annual preseason tradition of an enforcer working hard and having some success and people reacting by wanting to put him in the NHL lineup kicked in. I don’t think that’s actually going to happen – one decent look at his skating stride and his puck movement shows that there won’t be a fit up top. With that said, he’s an easy guy to root for and as a Newmarket native, I’m glad he got to have a big game in the main blue and white. Maybe he gets the Scott Sabourin treatment and gets called up once or twice for a game against a bottom feeder, but in the meantime, he just created a positive impression to carry into the Marlies, and that’s still a good thing.
- William Nylander may have been slow to get the second jab, but he wasn’t slow to form on the ice last night. He looked like he hadn’t missed a beat from the playoffs and made some electrifying rushes along the way.
- Nothing made me happier on a personal level than seeing John Tavares play at 100% and get himself a goal last night. In the immediate aftermath of the injury he suffered back in the spring, a lot of us feared that, at minimum, he’d never be the same again. The fact that he’s feeling as if nothing happened at this point is a miracle and a testament to the treatment he got, and it was hard not to carry a grin whenever he contributed on the ice, no matter how invested you are in the rest of the team.
- Ilya Mikheyev getting stopped on a breakaway to close regulation and then scoring the winner in the just-for-fun shootout was a real “duality of man” moment.
- That top pair of Jake Muzzin and Timothy Liljegren looked lights-out last night. Really, all of Toronto did off the puck, and there’s a reason why they were able to completely dull out the Montreal attack until late-game shell time. But those two were the standout pair in my eyes, and what mattered the most was that Liljegren looked more than capable of holding his own. A lot of the questions of just how deep the Leafs defensive corps are will revolve around how prepared he is to play full time NHL minutes this year, and if last night was an indication, he’s there.
- Hard not to feel bad for Ian Scott. The 22-year-old netminder has been plagued with injuries over the past two years and despite only having one period of assignment to play through last night, his night ended in just five minutes. The team is reporting a groin injury, which isn’t directly related to his hip injury that cost him over a year of playing time but can’t help matters. He’s an exemplary athletic talent, but if his body can’t contain him, it might be time to firmly place him as a longshot for pro hockey in your book of expectations.
- Lastly, it was real nice to see a crowd in Scotiabank Arena again. I’m as Covid-Cautious as anyone, as those who follow me have seen over the past year and a half, but I think we’re at a stage where a vaccinated, mostly-masked stadium can start bringing us back towards normalcy. A half crowd last night was probably on the more cautious side, but it’s more than we’ve seen in a local hockey rink since last March, and that rules. Hopefully it’s a sign of good times ahead.