The Habs capped off a rare three games in four nights preseason series against the Maple Leafs on Monday and after dropping the first two, they came back late for a 5-4 overtime victory. Here are ten thoughts on the contest.
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After more than half the training camp group was cut over the weekend, Montreal’s lineup featured significantly more NHL players than the first four games with a handful of youngsters still pushing for spots. The team lined up as follows:
Caufield – Suzuki – Anderson
Harvey-Pinard – Dach – Slafkovsky
Pearson – Monahan – Gallagher
Heineman – Evans – Ylonen
Norlinder – Savard
Xhekaj – Kovacevic
Harris – Mailloux
1) While it’s a meaningless game, it was good to see the Habs come out with a bit of jump. Seven shots in the first seven minutes while holding Toronto without one isn’t too shabby, especially against Toronto’s ‘A’ lineup. Managing one shot the rest of the first period? Not so much.
2) I hesitate to get too critical of goalies in the preseason, but Noah Gregor’s goal on Jake Allen can’t beat the veteran when games matter. I won’t fault him on the power play goal from John Tavares, however. Yes, it looks bad but Tavares whiffed on the original chance; that was the shot that Allen correctly tracked and was square to. A bit of bad luck for him with Tavares regaining his balance and roofing it. He bounced back nicely with some big stops even though the stat line wasn’t too pretty.
3) Mattias Norlinder’s power play goal in the first period was the best thing that could have happened to his admittedly slim chances of making the opening roster. Montreal’s power play has been basically moribund this preseason (picking up exactly where it left off, evidently) so anything that helps lead to success on the man advantage can only help his chances. Even if he doesn’t make the opening roster, he has put himself back in the recall conversation at least which is an important step in an important contract year. He had a pretty steady game overall.
4) On Max Domi’s goal, it wasn’t a great clear-out by Arber Xhekaj but he didn’t exactly have a great option. He’s behind his net and his outlet – Emil Heineman – is out near centre ice. There’s trying to jump up to start a transition play and there’s getting out a little too far. This was the latter and a luck bounce off a centring feed later and it’s in the back of your net. Xhekaj had the turnover but there was definitely a mitigating factor there.
5) Who led Montreal’s forwards in penalty killing time tonight? Jesse Ylonen. Who saw that coming? Probably no one but the coaching staff. Ylonen isn’t exactly the definition of a defensive-minded player but his offensive skills aren’t at the level where he’ll play up in the lineup and see power play time when everyone is healthy. Having him as an even-strength-only option doesn’t really work either; those players often see between six and eight minutes a game which isn’t much. One game isn’t enough to draw any conclusions from but Ylonen handled himself relatively well.
6) Not that I thought that Logan Mailloux was going to earn a spot on the team but this was the game that cemented his fate. He made a coverage error on Auston Matthews that eventually led to Nick Suzuki having to take a goal-saving penalty (which led to Tavares’ goal), he had a bad penalty on Matthew Knies that was entirely unnecessary, and his reaction to a hard but clean hit from Timothy Liljegren was him basically acting like a junior player. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy he’s getting a long look and getting exposed like this isn’t bad. Situational awareness is a weakness of his; getting exposed on it a few times might help him learn from it. Offensively, he can more than hold his own and he showed that in this one but the rest of his game needs further refinement before he’s a viable NHL option.
7) Jake Evans isn’t in jeopardy of losing his roster spot but he has not fared well in his first couple of preseason outings. He has never been a burner for a skater but he just seems a half-step slow. He got caught on Tavares’ second with a shift that was far too long and his reaction as the pass was going to Tavares for his shot was one that the coaches will be pointing out; he basically gave up and watched. That can’t happen.
8) Johnathan Kovacevic has cemented his spot not just on the roster but in the opening night lineup. With Justin Barron struggling and Gustav Lindstrom injured, the spot was there for him to lock down and he has done just that. He’s not flashy but as far as third-pairing blueliners go, he’s pretty dependable. His goal to get it back within one was a big one.
9) Josh Anderson’s chemistry with the top line was evident from the opening shift and it came into play on his game-tying goal with less than a minute to go. Having said that, I’m not sure that he’s the right fit for that line. Style-wise, it works but the bulk of his time with them has shown that it’s not a long-term solution. Knowing how often Martin St. Louis will be changing his lines though, it’s good to know that he’s at least still a serviceable option.
10) Speaking of the late comeback, it’s nice to see them have a bit of success in that situation; it’s one they’ll find themselves in a lot. There was good puck movement and a couple of good keeps in the attacking end to keep up the pressure. A bit more overtime practice certainly wouldn’t have hurt but I’m not going to complain about a win.
HW Habs 3 Stars
1st Star: Sean Monahan (2 assists, +2, 2 PIMS, 2 shots, 13/16 faceoffs, 16:36 TOI)
2nd Star: Kirby Dach (1 goal, 1 assist, +3, 3 shots, 3/10 faceoffs, 18:09 TOI)
3rd Star: Nick Suzuki (GWG, 2 assists, +1, 2 PIMS, 1 shot, 3 hits, 8/14 faceoffs, 19:11 TOI)