After taking the preseason opener on Saturday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs dropped the second exhibition to the Montreal Canadiens, losing 5-2. With players like William Nylander, John Tavares, and Jake Muzzin having played on Saturday night, the Maple Leafs iced their second group of players on Monday night. The second group included mainstays like Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly, along with newcomers such as Nick Ritchie, Ondrej Kase, and Petr Mrazek making their Maple Leafs debuts.
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While, yes, it’s preseason and the outcomes of these games don’t matter, they’re still worth putting stock into. This is head coach Sheldon Keefe’s first full training camp ahead of an 82-game season, and these games are a good gauge to see how the players adapt to his system. While there were lots of talking points, both good and bad tonight, here are three takeaways from the loss to Montreal.
Mrazek Outplays Campbell in First Game
One of the most burning questions heading into the 2021-22 season is how the goaltending situation is going to shape together with Mrazek and Jack Campbell battling between the pipes. And in the first game where we got to have a look at both goalies, Mrazek had a much better game than Campbell. The latter started the game and didn’t look overly sharp, allowing three goals on 12 shots.
Mrazek finished his game having allowed one goal on eight shots. While that’s an incredibly small sample size, he was easily the stronger goalie of the two throughout the game. He also had a couple of timely saves towards the end of the game, including a massive one to rob Canadiens forward Josh Anderson of a hat trick.
It’s easy to favour Campbell between the two because of how good his 2020-21 season was, but the Maple Leafs didn’t sign Mrazek to be a backup goalie. They expect there to be some competition between the two netminders, and while one game isn’t enough to determine who starts the first game of the season, I’d imagine they’re going to roll with whoever has the better preseason. And with his performance tonight, Mrazek got a head start making his case.
A Rough Night For the Maple Leafs’ Special Teams
While there were a couple of sore spots for the Maple Leafs tonight, one of their most noticeable struggles was their special teams. Three of the Canadiens’ five goals were power play goals, and they finished the night three-for-five on the power play. The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, finished the night 0-for-3 on the power play. They failed to register a shot on a four minute power play to start the second period, and while they looked more organized the second time around, they weren’t able to convert on the man advantage through the game.
It’s obviously hard to critique the performance of the special teams during preseason, because you don’t have all of your regulars on it. Besides, of course, Mitch Marner, who was testing out a new position on the power play. It would be unfair to say that their power play is a cause for concern when it featured the likes Ilya Mikheyev and Adam Brooks on it in favour of Auston Matthews and William Nylander. However, it’s a tough look when neither the power play nor the penalty kill can click, and it was certainly a major factor in the loss.
Maple Leafs’ Czech Newcomers Provide Offense
On the positive front, the offense the Maple Leafs did get tonight came courtesy of a couple of new faces. Former Chicago Blackhawk David Kampf scored the first goal for the Maple Leafs on a brutal giveaway from Canadiens goaltender Kevin Poulin, and former Boston Bruin Ondrej Kase converted on a sweet feed from Rielly to tally their second goal.
While Kampf’s goal was more or less a fluke and he won’t be relied on for too much offense this season, Kase’s goal was very encouraging. The 25-year-old scored 20 goals for the Anaheim Ducks in 2017-18, and he was on pace for 30 goals in 2018-19 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.
Kase is still young, and his inability to stay healthy over the past two seasons has made it tough for him to find consistency offensively. If he can stay off of the injured reserve this year, the Maple Leafs will have themselves quite the player. He possesses a strong two-way game and still has that offensive potential and could present himself as a name to slot in on the top line with Matthews and Marner, so it was nice to see him and Kampf score in this game.
Maple Leafs Will Face the Ottawa Senators Next
We’re two games into preseason, and Maple Leafs’ brass has more or less seen every player at least once by now. With a game against the Ottawa Senators looming on Wednesday, it will be interesting to see what sort of line combinations Keefe comes up with. While the Senators aren’t expected to be a playoff team this year, they’re always a tough team to go up against and the Battle of Ontario is always an exciting time.