The Toronto Maple Leafs won the second game of the preseason on Wednesday, shutting out the Ottawa Senators 4-0. After getting a good look at most of the players expected to make the roster in their first two games, the Maple Leafs used tonight to sit most of their regulars and give the newcomers and younger players a chance to show what they were made of.
The overall story of the game was the impact their new faces made. While you don’t necessarily watch for end-game results during preseason games, it’s still encouraging to see the new players adapt to a system they aren’t comfortable with and help their team win games. And in many aspects, that was the case on Wednesday. As always, there was lots to talk about if you actually sat down and watched the whole game, but here are three key takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ second preseason win.
Michael Bunting Collects a Hat-Trick
Talk about a guy looking to make a good first impresion with his new team. Back when the Maple Leafs originally signed Bunting, I wrote a piece about how he could possess some untapped potential. And if tonight was any indicator of what he could bring to the Maple Leafs this season, it will have been a home run signing.
One thing that all three of Bunting’s goals had in common tonight were that they all happened right in front of the net, and that’s the type of player the Maple Leafs will be getting in the Scarborough native. That gives him four goals in his first two preseason games, and based on what I’ve seen out of him, he looks like he will play a massive part in softening the blow of losing Zach Hyman.
One thing Hyman and Bunting share in common is their motors. They are the first ones into the corners, very good in tight, and great at creating space for their linemates. One difference between the two players is that Bunting plays with an edge. While Hyman was a hard worker, you would never find him instigating or trying to get under the opponent’s skin. Bunting, meanwhile, loves getting right into the middle of the scrum. He’s obviously less proven than Hyman, but he has all the tools to be the Maple Leafs’ best signing of the offseason.
Mrazek Stands Tall, Gets the Shutout
In my last takeaways piece, I noted that Petr Mrazek was the better goalie in his first split start with Jack Campbell. And in his first full start as a Maple Leaf, he held down the fort and picked up a shutout on 19 saves. The Maple Leafs, on the other hand, had 32 shots and dominated the pace for the most part, which definitely made Mrazek‘s job easier.
Either way, though, the Czech netminder made the big saves when he had to and kept his team in it the entire time. Despite missing most of the season after a freak thumb injury in only his fourth start of the season, Mrazek put up elite numbers over his 11-game sample size including a 2.06 goals against average (GAA) and a .923 save percentage (SV%).
When Frederik Andersen officially hit the injured reserve and Campbell went on his big winning streak, it was hard for the former to earn back his job after the two were splitting starts to begin the 2020-21 season. But if Mrazek keeps playing the way he is, we may have to beg the question of “Will he take that opening night job from Campbell?”. The best case scenario is to have both goalies succeeding so the team has two safe options, and Mrazek is doing his part to ensure some healthy challenge for Campbell.
Ho-Sang Outplaying Gusev For a Contract
One of the interesting parts to keep tabs on during preseason is how the players on professional tryout (PTO)s fare, as they usually have a little extra fire to their game since they’re playing for security. General manager Kyle Dubas dipped his feet into the PTO pool and came out with former New York Islanders first round pick Joshua Ho-Sang, and former KHL juggernaut Nikita Gusev.
While we’re looking at a limited sample size for both players, Ho-Sang is definitely on the right path to score himself a contract. He tallied two assists, both on Bunting goals, and seemed to be all over the ice tonight. While Gusev picked up an assist as well and hasn’t been bad, per se, he brings less to the table in terms of his all-around game compared to Ho-Sang.
When the Maple Leafs signed Gusev to the PTO, I wrote a piece about how he had boom-or-bust potential. And without casting firm judgement only two games in, it’s not looking like he’s going to earn a contract, at least not in favour of Ho-Sang. He still has time to make an impact the same way he did in 2019-20 when he had 44 points in 66 games for the New Jersey Devils, but if I was a betting man, I’d bank on Ho-Sang putting pen to paper first.
Maple Leafs Will Play Ottawa Again on Monday
Now three games into the preseason, the Maple Leafs are set to face off in another mini edition of the Battle of Ontario on Oct 4. Because there are four days until the next game, you can probably expect there to be some cuts in that time. If I had to guess, I’d bet the cuts will mostly be players who are destined to play in the American Hockey League (AHL) this year.
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The game on Monday will be immediately followed by another game against the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, and then there’s a three day break before the final game of the preseason on Saturday, Oct. 9, against the Canadiens. I’d imagine the second wave of cuts will come during that final break, so it will be intriguing to keep an eye on how the roster shapes out before the season starts on Oct. 13.
Alex Hobson is a third year broadcasting student at Niagara College. He has been writing about sports since 2005 and has been with The Hockey Writers since October of 2020. He covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, World Juniors, and the NHL Entry Draft, and is also part of the Sticks in the 6ix Podcast, presented by THW. He also makes weekly appearances on THW’s Maple Leafs Lounge Roundtable. For interview requests or any other inquiries, you can follow Alex’s social media pages listed at the bottom of his articles like this one.