The Toronto Maple Leafs finished the preseason weekend with a 5-2-0 home record, tying the series against the Detroit Red Wings. John Tavares and Pierre Engvall expressed optimism about a return in time for Wednesday's season opener against the Montreal Canadiens, as the Maple Leafs do something as easy as difficult to send their team through the roof before then.
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Forward Zach Aston-Reese signsTransition SigningAfter signing an impressive preseason contract for a pro tryout, forward Nick Robertson was sent to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League (AHL) to help with their roster overhaul. Despite Robertson's stellar preseason, the latest attacking position is his or her.Dennis Malkin, also put in an impressive performance, and this one ended up accepting the position because, unlike the first one, he had to be exempt.
I'm not going to pay too much attention to Robertson's demotion because I think the Maple Leafs are very aware of how he's been playing this season. It looks like there's still a move or two left to make, and while it might be a shame to see Robertson out of the lineup on opening night, I can't imagine him staying in the minors for long. Anyway, let's take a look at what the Maple Leafs could have in their lineup for Wednesday night's game.
Malkin and Aston Reece complete Maple Leafs deep offense
This shouldn't surprise anyone, but the Leafs' offense will once again be their strong suit in 2022-23. remember the head coachSheldon KeefeAnd his team has yet to announce the starting lineup for the season opener, but we could see something similar based on the Maple Leafs' practice schedule on Monday.
Michael Bunting - Auston Matthews - Mitch Marner
Dennis Malkin - John Tavares - William Nyland
Pierre Engvart – Alex Kerfoot – Calle Jarnkrok
Zach Aston-Reese – David Kampf – Nicolas Aub-Kubel
From above, there are clearly no surprises. The duo formed by Matthews and Marner scored 60 goals for the former and more than 100 points for the latter in 82 games. In a season where one of the most pressing questions was how the Leafs could replace Zach Heyman on the front line, Michael Bunting came in, got the job done, and then did something else. The Scarborough native scored 63 points in 79 games last season and hopes to go even further this year.
When you consider the discussion that dominated the 2021-22 season and much of the offseason, the second line is absolutely hilarious on its face. Considering Malkin had minimal impact on the Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers in 2019-20, the Malkin-for-Mason Marchment trade was widely viewed as General Manager Kyle Dubas (one of the worst deals of Kyle Dubas's tenure). .out of the paradelast season. Even so, the Swiss striker has eight points from six pre-season games (including this sordid goal below) and it's likely he'll finish in the top six. If you don't get it, someone else will take your place.
In the meantime, it looks like the Maple Leafs will once again use Kerfoot at center.retireJason Spezza's off-season performance. Engvart can line up on his flank, waiting for asuitable surge stationGarn Crocker could serve as a right-back in the line after a one-year summer extension. Both ends could get some second-row reps if Malkin can't play there, but for now, they round out a defensively responsible third row with solid offensive potential.
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Of all the line combinations the Leafs have tried, the fourth line you see above will likely stay the same all season. With Keefe using Aston Rees and Aube Kuber almost every chance he gets, with Kampf in the middle, it's clear what the purpose of the line is. The three of them probably won't score 20 goals together, but given the predictability of all three, their opponents won't be happy.
Maple Leafs defense to start season without Lijgren
Here's what a defensive lineup looks like to start the season, far from the combination Keefe used in practice Monday:
Morgan Rielly – TJ Brody
Jack Mussing-Justin Hall
Marc Giordano - Rasmus Sandin
Like the front line, the Leafs' defensive duo of Morgan Rielly and TJ Brody will remain the same this season. Riley played the best hockey of his career all season with a constant partner in Brody, and I can't imagine they'd want to end that unless injuries force them to. Until then, it's safe to say that the duo will once again be a top duo in 2022-23.
As for the second pairing, I can only describe the one between Muzzin and Holl as risky. This duo is one of the strangest to me, as they were a huge part of the Leafs' defense in 2020-21 and the exact opposite in 2021-22. How well they work together will largely depend on the health of Muzzin, who has already suffered several preseason injuries. I can understand why Keefe would start this duo, given at least some familiarity, but if they play together like they did last season, he shouldn't hesitate to end the duo.
In the bottom pair, you haveRasmus SandinSomewhat uncharted territory on the right flank, but luckily for him, he'll be paired with Marc Giordano, who tends to improve almost every player he plays. Santin's limited sample size on the right last season didn't look good, but with Giordano (who also said he could play there) playing alongside him, before Timothy Lidgegren returns from injury, he's in good shape. After that, I can only imagine Hall being moved to make room for him.
Matt Murray Named Maple Leafs Opening Night Starter
Since the Maple Leafs will start the season back-to-back, it could go either way, but Keefe confirmed yesterday that Matt Murray will start against the Canadiens on Wednesday while Elijah Sam Sonoff will play the Canadiens on his old team. The Maple Leafs home opener on Thursday. Both goalkeepers have excelled in pre-season, but Murray has conceded just two goals in total in all games, so it makes sense that he would get the nod in his debut game.
It's still early days, but based on what I've seen from both netmasters in preseason, I'm excited. It's worth remembering that the Maple Leafs had a team save percentage (SV%) below .900 for most of last season, and the only reason they ended up leading with a team SV% of 0. Last season, November. They have a pretty extensive roster and what they really need is the consistency of Murray and Samsonov, and as long as this duo gives them a chance to win games, they should take that set, even though the risks could be great.
Opening night roster may not be Maple Leafs final form
Whether Tavares' health will affect the Maple Leafs' plans for Game 1 remains to be seen. The team is optimistic about where it is now, but if it's not ready tomorrow night, the Leafs will have to field 11 forwards due to the salary cap situation. While your first instinct might be to think this is a reflection of salary cap mismanagement, it's actually due to intense competition for spots on the team, and in a game that's understaffed, while not ideal, it's actually like the Colorado.Las Vegas Golden KnightsThey both did it last season.
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If Tavares isn't ready to start, the Maple Leafs could call on Robertson in an emergency. But like I said, even if Tavares is ready, I don't think it will be long before Robertson returns to the team. His relegation is just a reflection of the abundance of depth the Maple Leafs have and their ability to reach the minors without a waiver. Until he returns, they'll be fine without him. Anyway, the season starts tomorrow, and for better or worse, it's going to be yet another roller coaster.