We’ll share points after every game throughout the Toronto Maple Leafs season.
A Toronto Maple Leafs team that only barely met the requirements to pass as a legitimate NHL roster defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 on Monday in a game we can’t blame you for skipping.
Here are two key points, anyway:
First Point: Two Leafs answer Babcock’s challenge
With essentially the entire opening night roster not chosen for the trip, Monday’s preseason clash versus Montreal served as a last-ditch opportunity for those sliding from consideration to throw up some resistance.
To varying degrees, perhaps there were a select few that successfully won back some consideration from Mike Babcock and the Maple Leafs’ hockey operations. But there were two skaters in particular that stood out, each possibly preserving their bids to crack the opening night lineup.
In a game that featured the Canadiens’ three top scorers from last season, Yegor Korshkov and Nic Petan were maybe the two best forwards on the ice. Korshkov scored twice, his second through determination, physicality and a particularly expert finish, while Petan registered five shots and had two primary helpers, one of which came on Korshkov’s power-play marker.
With the top essentially set, and Jason Spezza and Frederik Gauthier expected to serve as two thirds of Toronto’s fourth line, theoretically Petan and Korshkov could still both make the team — though only one would be expected to dress on opening night. However, the more likely scenario seems to be that one makes the team and the other starts with the Marlies.
Korshkov, we think, was one of the bigger, heavier forwards that Babcock was eluding to when he mentioned after the Leafs’ opening-round loss to Boston that the team would introduce some more size next season.
For several reasons though, it’s the much smaller, more skilled Petan that probably has a far stronger chance.
For starters, there doesn’t seem to be a natural fit in the lineup for Korshkov. There are stronger options on the right side of the third line with Ilya Mikheyev and Alexander Kerfoot, Spezza and Gauthier would be best served by some speed and tenacity on the fourth-line forecheck, and sitting up in the press box in his first full season in North America simply does Korshkov no benefit.
Though just one year older than Korshkov, Petan’s hockey identity is far easier defined. With versatility, speed and offensive instincts, he’s a far more ideal candidate to serve in a plug-and-play capacity for the Leafs — which means both playing all over the lineup, and sitting in the press box when he isn’t needed.
With Zach Hyman shelved for now, Petan could start the season on either of the bottom six lines. And as Toronto loads up on its first power play, he could potentially log some second-unit minutes with Tyson Barrie and William Nylander.
Fielding a minor-league roster against some of Montreal’s top players, Babcock was begging for someone to make a statement.
The two players that seem to be the most NHL-ready wound up delivering.
Second Point: Hutchinson shows up, shows out
For Michael Hutchinson, simply showing up might have been enough for Babcock.
Registering the shutout, though, certainly can’t hurt.
With a simple update to begin his media availability after the morning skate, Mike Babcock seemed to fully question Michal Neuvirth’s desire to compete for the Leafs’ backup job.
Not “feeling up to it,” Neuvirth ceded his start in Montreal to his direct competition, who seized the opportunity entirely by stopping all 38 shots he faced.
Neuvirth has been limited throughout his professional tryout in Toronto with an undisclosed injury. Though many believe, when healthy, Neuvirth might be the preferred choice to back up Frederik Andersen, he is running out of time to prove he can strap up his pads in consecutive days, let alone spell the starter whenever he’s called upon.
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