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The Habs played their first road game of the preseason on Wednesday in Toronto.  With a very limited roster, they weren’t able to muster up much as they fell 3-0.

A handful of players that suited up on Monday against New Jersey were also in this one.  Juraj Slafkovsky originally wasn’t in that group but with Jonathan Drouin being sick, he was inserted on the top line.  The team lined up as follows:

Slafkovsky – Pitlick – Armia
Heineman – Evans – Ylonen
Mesar – Beck – Stephens
Condotta – Schnarr – Bourque

Schueneman – Wideman
Xhekaj – Harris
Leskinen – Barron


The game got off to a fast start with nearly four minutes being played without a whistle.  As is often the case in a preseason game, however, there was a lot of skating and not much else as nary a shot hit the net for either side.  Less than two minutes after that stretch, Filip Mesar had a good shot from the slot after a strong takeaway from Mitchell Stephens but Matt Murray got a piece of it.

Just before the seven-minute mark, Nick Robertson took a stretch pass from Mark Giordano and skated in on the left wing.  He quickly fired a shot that somehow squeaked by Samuel Montembeault to open up the scoring on Toronto’s first shot of the game.

A couple of minutes later, Gabriel Bourque went off for a trip on Denis Malgin.  The Maple Leafs had some early pressure off a shot through a screen but other than that, they weren’t able to muster up much.

A minute after that expired, Montembeault made a nice save in close on Pontus Holmberg off a nice give-and-go play with William Nylander.  Seconds later, with Toronto still pressuring, Rem Pitlick cross-checked Malgin, sending the home side back to the man advantage.  The Leafs had good pressure in the first minute, highlighted by a goal post from Alex Steeves, but couldn’t double their lead.

Montreal had a good chance to get the tying goal in the last minute of the period as Justin Barron got the puck just above the slot area but the shot went wide.  It was a decent start for a Canadiens roster that was counting their two first-round picks in July as ‘veterans’ to meet the threshold as they were outshot 10-8.

The first five minutes of the second period were largely uneventful.  Each team had a couple of shots but the flow from the beginning of the game just wasn’t there.  Shortly after that, a quick shot from Slafkovsky generated a couple of looks, one for Pitlick and one for Joel Armia; the latter’s attempt beat Murray but Holmberg got a stick on it to keep it out.  Moments later, Mesar made a nifty move in close to get a shot off but Murray got a piece of it as well.

On the next shift, Chris Wideman was hooked by Kyle Clifford, sending the Habs to the power play but they couldn’t get anything going.  At the midway point of the period, Martin St. Louis switched his goalies up with Kevin Poulin coming in for Montembeault who settled in after allowing that first goal, making 14 straight stops after that.

Montreal got another opportunity with the man advantage when Robertson cross-checked Lucas Condotta.  Again, they couldn’t get much going although Heineman made a nice pass for Jake Evans who was able to tip a shot on net.  It was their only one of the advantage.

With a minute and a half left, Arber Xhekaj was sent off for a hold on Nylander.  Toronto was able to take advantage soon after.  Steeves fed Alex Kerfoot who sent a quick one-touch pass to Malgin in the slot and he lifted one past Poulin to send the Maple Leafs to the room up by two.  Shots on goal in the second were 10-8 for Toronto once again.

Early in the third, it was the inverse of the scoring chance on the power play with Evans finding a streaking Heineman down the middle but Erik Kallgren, who had replaced Murray to start the third, got a piece.

One of Montreal’s few prime scoring chances came just before the seven-minute mark.  The Habs executed a strong breakout and Pitlick sent a well-placed pass from the left wing to Jordan Harris in the middle of the ice but Kallgren was square to the shot.

With a little over eight minutes left, Slafkovsky was the lone man back to defend a two-on-one against Holmgren and Malgin.  Malgin had the puck in alone but couldn’t get off the shot.  Going the other way, the Evans line had another strong shift but couldn’t get the Canadiens on the board.  A minute later, Poulin made his best stop of the night, grabbing a Bobby McMann backhander after kicking out a rebound to the slot on a point shot.

Before the first period was out, Toronto had lost both Jordie Benn and Carl Dahlstrom, leaving them with four defencemen.  That meant that Calle Jarnkrok and Alex Kerfoot spent time on the back end.  With less than six minutes left, Armia pressured Jarnkrok and was able to draw a high-sticking penalty.  The first unit generated lots of zone time with Slafkovsky getting a couple of looks but he couldn’t beat Kallgren.

With a little under four minutes left, Heineman was called for a hook on Morgan Rielly and Toronto’s power play again made them pay as Nylander sent a cross-ice feed for Nick Abruzzese who was able to out-muscle Corey Schueneman to slide it past Poulin to end any hope of a late comeback.  The shots in the final frame were 11-9 for the Canadiens.

HW Habs 3 Stars

1st Star: Emil Heineman – I was really impressed with the rookie in this one.  His shot was strong as advertised, he made a couple of nice passes, used his speed well, and even helped kill a penalty early on.  That type of versatility will always be endearing to coaches and Heineman certainly helped his cause in the roster battles.

Stats: 0 points, 2 PIMS, 6 shots, 3 hits, 16:37 TOI

2nd Star: Filip Mesar – The ‘other’ first-round pick had two of Montreal’s most dangerous chances on the night and did well at five-on-five.  Somewhat surprisingly, he didn’t play all that much but he was noticeable when he was on the ice.  He’s certainly not NHL-ready yet but it was a good showing nonetheless.

Stats: 0 points, 2 shots, 1 hit, 1 block, 11:48 TOI

3rd Star: Mitchell Stephens – If you were to ask me for a dark horse to make the roster, it’s Stephens.  He played in every game he was healthy for with Detroit last season and can play centre and the wing.  It was the latter in this one where he helped cause some turnovers while showing a bit of offensive upside.  The coaches I’m sure were pleased with his performance.

Stats: 0 points, 2 shots, 1 takeaway, 12:50 TOI

Honourable Mention: Arber Xhekaj – I think some of the talk of him making the roster might be a bit premature but he played a relatively clean game while being the only blueliner on the happy side of the possession scale.  It’s that – not the physicality – that will keep him in the mix for a roster spot or a prominent role with Laval.

Stats: 0 points, -1 rating, 2 PIMS, 6 hits, 21:12 TOI

Prior to the game, the Canadiens cut one player from camp, releasing goalie Riley Mercer from his ATO agreement.  He’ll head back to junior and the roster now stands at 70 players.