3 Things We Learned From the Maple Leafs’ Preseason

Now that the preseason has come to an end, the Toronto Maple Leafs are now shifting their focus to the start of the regular season. 

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Many players stood out and made their case to make the roster and the Maple Leafs gave us a glimpse at what they were capable of for the 2022-23 season. From standout performances in the crease, to what they might do when multiple regulars go down with an injury, there are many things that we learned from the Maple Leafs as they embark on another season to achieve success. 

Murray/ Samsonov Risk Might Payoff

It appears that general manager Kyle Dubas’ two biggest moves in the offseason to improve his goaltending might be paying off. Fans and the media questioned those, and rightfully so. Though, maybe they shouldn’t be written off right away.  

Matt Murray Ottawa Senators
Matt Murray, Ottawa Senators (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The two biggest question marks in Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov have already played some games and appear to be heading in the right direction as they bounce back in their careers. Now, they need continue with that positive direction. 

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After a rough few seasons with the Ottawa Senators, maybe a move to a contender was the move that Murray needed as he has a chance for a fresh start with a much better defense in front of him. In the preseason, he only allowed two goals against in his three starts, including stopping all 16 shots in his first game against the Montreal Canadiens. He looked calmer and more poised in net as he displayed his form that made him successful with the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s still early but looking at his save percentage in all strengths in the games he played, Murray looked like a starter.

Opponent- ResultSave Percentage
MTL- 3-0 Win1.000
MTL- 5-1 Win0.967
DET- 5-1 Win0.947

As Samsonov continues to battle for the starting role, he displayed more consistency in net than what many have seen in the past. Including last season where the goaltending– both starter and back-up– was questionable at times. Overall, he allowed six goals against. Some may point to that as a cause for concern, Samsonov made a number of highly difficult saves, even robbing Dylan Larkin point blank in the team’s 4-2 loss to the Red Wings. 

In games tracked by Natural Stat Trick, Samsonov had a .917 high danger save percentage at five-on-five. Compare that to his regular season numbers last season where it was .785. You can tell that Samsonov has put in the work to better himself and that he looks to be a completely different goaltender compared to last season. He’s not as nervous in the crease with his movement and he doesn’t get out of position as a result of his lateral movements. He’s always squared with the shooter and takes away the shooting lane. 

Related: Maple Leafs Will Benefit From Battle Between Murray & Samsonov

While it’s a small sample, the performance that Murray and Samsnonov had in the preseason could serve as some reassurance that the Maple Leafs might be just fine in net this season. They need to build off of it and continue to perform well and make sure that goaltending won’t be a weakness this season.

More Competitive & Physical

In the early stages of preseason, head coach Sheldon Keefe had a very simple, clear and explicit message in response to the team’s play in practice, according to The Athletic’s Jonas Siegel. 

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With the games that followed, it looks like the message has been received as the team appears to be more physical along with an improved work ethic. It seems as if every single player have taken their compete level and physical play to new heights. There has been a sense of urgency from the players as they’re getting in on the attack, learning to play the body and apply pressure on their opponents.

For the longest time, the one thing that the Maple Leafs were criticized for was a lack of their physical play or high compete level. With new additions to their bottom-six and a coach wanting to get more out of them, this could be the season where we see consistent efforts in regards to their overall competitive nature and intensity. We’re seeing players constantly working for the puck and maintain a presence and pace that’ll make this team dangerous when the season starts. They’re quicker in transition and are making the attempt to attack the middle of the ice with intent.

Zach Aston-Reese Anaheim Ducks
Former Anaheim Ducks forward, Zach Aston-Reese (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

New arrivals Zach Aston-Reese and Nick Aube-Kubel have already demonstrated what they can do as key pieces to bring a new identity the team’s bottom-six with their speed and ability to make a timely hit. But it doesn’t stop there as Denis Malgin has gotten in on the physical play, not letting his size affect his game. William Nylander always seems to elevate his game each season and we’re seeing that again, as he’s done a great job to fend off the opposition and even get the inside edge to battle for pucks. While he may not make a big time hit, his work ethic is on another level. 

If the Maple Leafs want to go far, then they need to up their intensity in order to match that of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche. Their work ethic and new found physical play can be the difference maker for them this season.

Resilient Through Injuries

The start of the preseason didn’t get off to a great start as multiple key players were sidelined due to injuries. It was first revealed that Timothy Liljegren had hernia surgery and Pierre Engvall was dealing with an ankle/ foot injury according to Inside the Maple Leafs’ David Alter

Jake Muzzin was dealing with some back discomfort and John Tavares suffered an oblique injury

Since then, Muzzin and Engvall returned to see some game time while Tavares and Liljegren continue to make their way back from their injuries. It wasn’t ideal for the injuries to mount up during the preseason. It’s a good sign that everyone is going to be healthy at the start of the season, albeit some may miss the first few games with some key players. Though it would be better to miss a few games now and have everyone healthy when they return, rather than midway through the season where they miss 5, 10 or 15 games.

Denis Malgin Florida Panthers
Former Florida Panthers forward, Denis Malgin (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Even with all the injuries to key players, the Maple Leafs were resilient as we saw a number of players that stepped up in their absence. If there’s another handful of injuries in the future, the Maple Leafs know who they can rely on. Malgin has shown that he’s capable of providing support in a second or third line role and Calle Jarnkrok has exceeded expectations as he’s another player that can play in a second line role, if needed. Plus, there’s Alexander Kerfoot’s versatility to play up and down the lineup.  

Related: 3 Potential Trade Destinations for Maple Leafs’ Wayne Simmonds

In the event of callups, Alex Steeves had a fantastic camp with his energy, speed and ability to establish a forecheck. Nick Abruzzese and Bobby McMann were other standouts that if they need some offense and speed, they should be ones that could be given an opportunity. Standout performer Nick Robertson is going to be at the top of list, depending on what they do with his contract as he’s waiver exempt.

While some may question the Maple Leafs depth, players showcased that if a player goes down, they can rise to the occasion and fill the void. Combine that with the players playing with a new found energy and compete level, there a few names that could make an impact immediately.

What are some things that stood out for you this preseason? Have your say in the comment section below.

Statistics from Natural Stat Trick.

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