Columnist image

SPORTSCENTRE Reporter

| Archive

The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Ottawa Senators 6-3 in a pre-season game at CAA Arena in Belleville, Ont. on Friday night. Earlier in the day, the non-game group held a practice at the Ford Performance Centre. Saturday is a day off for the team. 

---

Nick Robertson scored twice and added an assist in Friday's pre-season win. 

"It's good to see him make his mark offensively," said coach Sheldon Keefe. "What you're looking for from a guy like him is that he's going to be able to make an impact offensively. That's what he does. That's what he's best at. That's what he has a history of doing. You want to see him be able to convert it at a higher level and I think we're starting to see that here in this pre-season."

Robertson, who turned 21 earlier this month, also scored in Wednesday's pre-season game against the Montreal Canadiens. 

"Just building on the progression I've gotten the past few days," the 5-foot-9 winger said. "I've gotten a lot of confidence not only from the game, but practices too. Yeah, I felt good tonight."

Robertson scored 55 goals in 46 games in his final season in the Ontario Hockey League. He scored 16 goals in 28 American Hockey League games last season. But he has only managed to produce two goals in 20 National Hockey League games, including four in the 2020 bubble playoffs when he made his debut with the Leafs.

Robertson has struggled to get his lethal shot off at the NHL level, but seems to be finding more open ice this week. 

"You can see I'm moving my feet more and trying to be more deceptive," Robertson explained. "What's changing is just using my feet a lot more. I'm [realizing], OK, I got two things: I got my feet and I can shoot. So, if the shot's not working then I got my feet. I can always move my feet at all times."

Robertson's best shot of the night may have been a howitzer from the point that hit the post and led to a Denis Malgin goal in the third period. 

"That shot was pretty challenging, because I actually had to shoot across the guy, because it involves a moving screen," he said. "So, I tried to do that. That's a shot I did in junior and got the confidence to do there."

"He's got a crazy shot," said defenceman Victor Mete, who also scored on Friday. "His release is unbelievable. He can just pick corners." 

Robertson is now positioned to push for a roster spot over the final week of training camp.

"The games will get harder," Keefe said. "The competition will get harder. I can see him improving and his confidence growing daily."

 

---

Ilya Samsonov stopped 27 of 30 shots in his second pre-season start with the Leafs. 

"Pretty good," Samsonov said of his 60-minute performance. "You know, I'm happy we win. Ottawa played with two normal lines from NHL."

The Leafs lineup featured mostly players battling for roster spots or destined for the Toronto Marlies in the AHL. The Senators lineup, meanwhile, featured Brady TkachukJosh NorrisDrake Batherson, Tim Stützle and Thomas Chabot among others. 

"What I was really impressed with is that before we really pulled away in the game in that third period he made some big saves," said Keefe. "Tkachuk's in alone and that one really stands out, but there were a few others when they had clean looks and he was solid there. In a game such as this, when you're outmatched in terms of talent and NHL pedigree, you need your goaltender to be very good." 

--- 

Mitch Marner is embracing the opportunity to play some shifts as a defenceman this season. 

"As soon as [Keefe] gave me the heads up about it, I was all-in with it and thought the idea was a cool one," the all-star winger said.

Marner has already been taking some reps on the back end at training camp. 

"He looks the part out there," linemate Auston Matthews observed. "The idea of it is kind of like O-zone stuff. Obviously, he's a really good skater and just a smart hockey player out there. You can trust him making the right reads and everything. I think it's just a matter of getting him some reps and making sure that he's comfortable, but definitely a guy who's suited to that kind of job."

Marner's elite edge work makes the transition a bit easier. 

"I've had to work on backwards skating throughout my whole life just because of power-play stuff," said Marner, who often plays high in the zone on the man advantage. "You can get caught back there. I'm comfortable with backward skating. I'm comfortable with turning and trying to get back for pucks."

"Mitchy is an unbelievable skater," noted veteran winger Wayne Simmonds. "He transitions from forward to backward, sideways, on his head, wherever. He can skate in any direction. So, for Mitchy, I don't think it would be too far-fetched."

But, make no mistake, there are some risks. 

"Trying to make sure I'm good enough to take on two-on-ones if it happens, three-on-twos," Marner said of the biggest challenge. 

With Marner on defence, William Nylander can take his spot beside Matthews, giving the Leafs another dangerous weapon on the ice. 

"Definitely a lot of firepower," Marner said, "but you got to make sure, at the same time, we're not getting caught too low. We're not getting caught five guys running around the O-zone and playing just reckless."

 

---

For the second straight practice, lefty Morgan Rielly worked on the right side during five-on-five drills.

"I don't think it is as big of a deal as it is made out to be," said fellow defenceman T.J. Brodie, a lefty who has played on the right throughout his career. "There are positives and negatives to each side depending on where you are on the ice. The biggest thing is just getting comfortable. I think he will be fine. He is fully capable of playing on the right. He has the feet and the skill to do it."

Rielly skated alongside Jake Muzzin on Friday, but Keefe cautioned that Toronto's most productive defenceman is likely going back to his strong side soon. 

"It is just about getting him comfortable so that if we call on him to do so, he is okay with it and it doesn't affect his game," the coach said. "That is really where it is at. But I am fully expecting him to be on the left side."

With righty Timothy Liljegren (hernia) sidelined to start the season, the Leafs will need one of their lefties to follow Brodie's lead and shift to the right. Justin Holl is the only right-handed option among Toronto's NHL regulars. 

 

---

Keefe said the Leafs will play most of their regulars in the next pre-season game on Monday in Montreal. 

Lines in Friday's game: 

Aston-Reese - Kampf - Aube-Kubel

Robertson - Holmberg - Malgin 

Steeves - Shaw - Simmonds 

McMann - Der-Arguchintsev - Anderson 

 

Kral - Holl 

Mete - Villeneuve 

Rifai - Hollowell 

 

Samsonov

Kallgren 

 

Lines in Friday's practice:

Bunting - Matthews - Marner 

Nylander - Kerfoot - Jarnkrok 

Blandisi - Abruzzese - Gaudette 

Clifford, Douglas, Slaggert, Ellis

 

Muzzin - Rielly 

Giordano - Brodie 

Miller -  Hoefenmayer

Hellickson - Kapcheck 

 

Murray 

Ferguson

 

Injury updates: 

Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) will need surgery and is out six months. 

Jordie Benn (groin) will be out at least three weeks.