The Habs kicked off their second week of training camp games against a talent-depleted version of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Habs opted for a more interesting lineup as Tomas Tatar played with Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin while Charles Hudon, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Joel Armia rounded out the top-six. Nick Cousins played with Nate Thompson and Alex Belzile while Matthew Peca joined Jake Evans and Riley Barber to complete the forward ranks. On the blue line, Ben Chiarot and Jeff Petry were the veterans, while Karl Alzner, Cale Fleury, Josh Brook, and Brett Kulak played on the blue line. Carey Price was expected to start, but a last-minute change saw Charlie Lindgren get the start with Keith Kinkaid acting as the auxiliary.
Unfortunately, all the young guys that were playing to impress failed to do so. Belzile, Brook, Fleury, and Hudon were invisible. Evans was intelligent but mostly lacking the wow factor that he had in other games. Lindgren was also solid without being exceptional. In the end, this much mediocrity resulted in a 3-0 defeat for the Habs who will seek revenge in Toronto on Wednesday.
The first half of the period saw more hits than shot attempts as the young Leafs were hungry to prove their worth to their organization. As both teams played it rather safe, Timothy Liljegren was caught for hooking and the Habs had the first man advantage of the game. They squandered it as the Leafs got two odd-man rushes on the penalty kill to really destroy any momentum the Habs could have gathered on the sequence.
Play remained rather quiet though it was clear that the physical play of the Leafs was affecting the confidence of the young Habs. With roughly four minutes to play, Barber took a hooking penalty in the offensive zone. The Leafs obtained some zone time and a few good looks, but Lindgren stood tall and kept the game scoreless after the first period. The Leafs ended the period with a 10-7 shot advantage and a 17-15 hit lead so the Habs were surely not happy with that period.
Only thirty seconds into the second period, Domi was penalized for delay of game. This time, Nic Petan found Egor Korshkov in the slot for the first goal of the contest.
Kotkaniemi and Armia responded excellently and their shift resulted in a Justin Holl penalty. This version of the man advantage yielded some scoring chances but no result.
Six minutes into the period, Fleury was guilty of his first noticeable terrible sequence. He sent a weak shot on goal instead of dumping the puck while the rest of the line changed. Fleury then compounded his mistake by not covering anyone on the ensuing 3-on-2 as both potential covered players were able to get sticks on the puck which resulted in a rebound goal for Darren Archibald.
Claude Julien challenged for goaltender interference but was unsuccessful; the Leafs ended up with a 2-0 lead and a power play. A minute later, Evans took a tripping penalty leading to a 5-on-3. Some good penalty killing by Thompson kept the Leafs from extending the lead.
Toronto started the second half of the period with an unsuccessful power play as Kulak was called for interference. A few minutes later, another solid shift by the Kotkaniemi line (this time it followed a great shift by the Domi line) led to a Habs man advantage that once again looked dangerous but had no result. The Habs buzzed for the rest of the period but were lacking in opportunism. By the end of the period, shots were 22-19 in favour of Toronto.
The third period belonged to the Habs but the Leafs were content to defend their lead. To compound the Leafs’ complacency was the fact that the Habs never really challenged the centre of the ice. Sure they held the puck and got 19 shots on Michael Hutchinson, but almost all of it was perimeter play. The Habs power play to open the period didn’t amount to anything and the Habs continued to look better at even strength than with the man advantage early on.
With 11:56 to play, Kulak fell asleep while backtracking with the puck which opened the door for Korshkov to pick his pocket and then he roofed it on Lindgren for his second of the game and a 3-0 Toronto lead and the Maple Leafs held on from there.
HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars
1st Star – Jeff Petry
Dangerous on the power play, effective on the penalty kill, and the most consistent player at even strength. This was Jeff Petry all last season, and this season has started just as strongly for the defender. He was by far the Habs best player in this one, showing early that he intends to prove that last season was no fluke.
Stats: 0 points, -1, 3 shots, 5 hits, 24:03 T.O.I.
2nd Star – Max Domi
Domi was the most intense of the forwards as he created some chances for Tatar that just wouldn’t find the back of the net. If Domi enters the season with this intensity, he should be fine.
Stats: 0 points, -1, 6 shots, 15:45 T.O.I.
3rd Star – Charlie Lindgren
Without being sensational, Lindgren was solid enough to give the team a chance to win. A general lack of intensity from the rest of the team meant that he got zero goal support, but that’s not his fault. It was a good game for Lindgren as he looked in much better control of his movements than he did when I saw him last season.
Stats: 22 saves, 25 shots, 3 G.A.A., .880 save %, 60:00 T.O.I.
Honourable Mention – Jake Evans
There’s very little doubt in my mind that Evans is bound to play important AHL minutes under Joel Bouchard this season. The team is having to solve some puzzles regarding who plays centre in Montreal and who gets moved to the wing (though it seems likely that Suzuki will end up on the wing and that the team will deal with Poehling once he returns). The fourth line centre is Thompson and he has done nothing to lose that spot. All having been said, Jake Evans has really done everything right all camp long. If the injury bug were ever to hit down the middle, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Evans getting the call to join this team midseason as he’s gained the trust of teammates and coaching staff alike.
Stats: 0 points, 0 (+/-), 2 shots, 4 hits, 13:02 T.O.I.
Following the game, Montreal made several cuts of players who played in this game. Josh Brook, Alex Belzile, Jake Evans, and Riley Barber were all sent to Laval though Barber will need to clear waivers. He will hit the wire on Tuesday and the team will find out whether or not he’s claimed on Wednesday.