The Toronto Maple Leafs shut out the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 in game three of the preseason. We learned a lot from game three of the preseason, including the importance of stretching, two players are much more than just versatile and Curtis Douglas is a giant.
Maple Leafs Have Two X-Factors
Lesson number one is Calle Jarnkrok, an x-factor for the 2022-23 season. In his first appearance as a Maple Leaf, he netted two goals. For his next act, he played defence. You read that right; the 31-year-old who signed a four-year deal with Toronto in the offseason looked comfortable back at the blue line and kept Montreal out of the dangerous area. Besides one mistake, a high sticking penalty when he tried to lift the stick of a rushing player, Jarnkrok got full marks. However, it is the preseason, and it is the Habs.
After the first period, Alex Kerfoot was also moved back to the blue line. He played 10 of the 12 forward positions last season, and now he can add playing defence to his resume. Kerfoot is in the last year of his contract, so everything counts.
Both of the forwards no doubt won their teammates’ admiration and the coaching staff’s high praise. Sheldon Keefe said, “I thought they are as well-rounded of players as we have in terms of their skill set and experience. It just made sense. I thought they did an incredible job.”
Maple Leafs Blue Line Is in Trouble
That brings us to another lesson learned. Jordie Benn is not a defence option. The 35-year-old, who was still on the market on day two of free agency, left the game with just 2:19 played. The telecast still showed the starting line-up when the well-travelled veteran hobbled to the bench. A few replays later showed he appeared to be favouring his groin. So either the guy forgot to stretch or has a lingering injury that can’t handle a few minutes of less than physical competition. Benn may get a pass because the Leafs are so short-staffed on the blueline, but the red flags are there.
Carl Dahlstrom left the game minutes later with what appeared to be a wrist injury. Keefe said both players required further testing. However, the injury issues on the blue line are piling up. Jake Muzzin has started to skate again but is dealing with back pain. Timothy Liljegren is out for at least six weeks after undergoing hernia surgery. Rasmus Sandin is still holding out and is a no-show at camp. Maybe Kerfoot and Jarnkrok will find themselves on the blue line again?
Matt Murray Debute Was Good
Matt Murray made his Maple Leafs debut. The lesson learned here is that judging a goalie in the preseason is very difficult. He stopped 16 shots in the two periods he played and looked solid. Of course, every shot can go in the net, but there were only a couple that required Murray to break a sweat. The trade to acquire Murray is the biggest gamble of Kyle Dubas’ NHL career, and the jury is still out.
That said, daily progress is the most important factor for the goalie. While we can only see Murray in preseason action, the head coach is the guy keeping a close eye on him every day. Keefe said that both Murray and Ilya Samsonov have looked good, “whether it is the training sessions with Curtis Sanford, the off-ice tests, training, and preparation to play in the preseason, and they have answered all the questions that have come their way so far. They have done a good job.”
Maple Leafs Have Several Options at Forward
Another lesson that continues to be beaten into Leafs fans’ skulls is that Nick Robertson is with the Maple Leafs. I bring this up last because he had the most airtime – by far – on the SportsNet broadcast. There were several replays of him doing what many of the other forwards were doing. He scored the first goal and immediately followed that up by turning the puck over right in front of his net. He also took a very sloppy-looking cross-checking penalty in the neutral zone. Although the commentators were giving Robertson rave reviews, it was an example of the good and bad that this player brings to the table.
While Robertson remains the focus of the telecast, Keefe recognized a lot of solid play from young guys who are trying to crack the roster. “I thought Pontus Holmberg was really solid once again. We mentioned Alex Steeves. I thought Bobby McMann had his best day today. Joey Anderson. I hate going through the list because it is a big cluster of guys and I always leave one or two out. It is making for some tough decisions for us.”
One other guy that will make it tough to cut in the forward group is big number 53, and you could not miss him on the ice. He is 6-foot-9 and 242 pounds. He is trying to win the fourth-line centre position and has a lot of competition, but I wouldn’t want to be the guy to cut him.
So it’s not only the forward group that is making the decisions challenging, but the injuries to the backend will put pressure on the front office to address the situation. Either sign Sandin or trade him for a player who can now help this beat-up group. The season starts in less than two weeks.
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Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.