The Toronto Maple Leafs completed their preseason last night with a 5-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, finishing with a 6-2 record over the course of their eight preseason games. There was a lot to be excited about and still some wrinkles that over the course of the upcoming season I expect management and coaching to rectify.
One of the bright spots this camp has been Tyler Ennis, in the absence of William Nylander and having the opportunity to play along aside Auston Matthews and Patrick Marleau. Ennis displayed his speed and fore-checking ability as he took advantage of the opportunity that was presented to him in Nylander’s absence.
Usually when a player joins a new team there are some bumps along the way as he gets accustomed to this new role and environment. But John Tavares, isn’t most players and his chemistry with Mitch Marner is already in mid-season form as they tailed 14 points combined in just 4 games.
Not to be out done by number #91, Auston Matthews has found an extra step in his skating and appears to be even stronger physically as his 6 points were tied for second on the team over the course of the exhibition games. The increase in strength and size will be put to the test over the course of the next 82 games, as it did appear that Matthews wasn’t himself in the playoffs which limited his impact against Boston in the first round. A bigger, stronger, faster and well rested Matthews will only strengthen the Maple Leafs chances of competing against Tampa and Boston for tops in the Atlantic division and perhaps for the Stanley Cup come playoffs.
Frederik Andersen had a strong camp, but let’s keep an eye on how he starts this season. If he can shake off the off-season rust early, the Maple Leafs should be able to pick up some valuable points early in the season. If not, then the team and more specifically the defense will need to come up big until he gets going like he did last season.
Last night’s result aside, Curtis McElhanney had a great showing and has probably earned his spot as Andersen’s back-up this season. Gareth Sparks had a lot going for him coming in, his play in the AHL playoffs and age were all factors that gave him the early edge to win the back-up position. After some poor results, it appears Sparks will be either traded or sent through waivers to begin the season with the Marlies if not claimed.
Now for the areas that still need some work, the shots against (261) and goals against (22) are an area over the course of the season will need to be improved especially when you consider that the Maple Leafs had an easy exhibition schedule against teams all predicted to be out of the playoffs and in the draft lottery. This can’t all be placed on the goalies either, better defensive coverage and stronger back check is key for the team to have any sustainable success.
The Maple Leafs have shown that scoring shouldn’t be a problem but they will need to work on limiting the workload on the goalies. Andersen and McElhanney can’t be expected to face 30+ shots every game and expect to have success.
There was plenty to like if not love during the 8 games of the exhibition schedule but there are things that still need to be worked on over the course of the season to prepare for what should be a long playoff run. So gear up, this is going to be a great season to be part of Leafs Nation which all starts on October 3rd!