Domi brings ‘heart and soul’ game to Leafs
The Maple Leafs skated at Scotiabank Arena on Monday. The non-playing group held a practice.
Max Domi will play his first game as a Maple Leaf in Toronto on Monday night.
"It's pretty surreal," the 28-year-old forward said. "I mean, growing up [here], the building hasn't changed much, the staff is all pretty similar, and the locker room is almost identical. It definitely feels like home."
Tie Domi, Max's dad, played 777 games for the Leafs over 12 years and leads the franchise in penalty minutes. Max spent plenty of time hanging out in the home dressing room while growing but did not inherit his father's old stall.
"Willy's in my dad's spot," he said with a grin. "Hilarious."
William Nylander has never dropped the gloves but did pick up his first roughing penalty in the NHL last season.
Tie Domi became a fan favourite in Toronto because of his hard-hitting, fist-throwing style. Max, who signed a one-year deal in the summer, has the potential to elicit similar feelings.
"He plays with his heart and soul," said Mitch Marner, who played with Domi during their junior days with the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League. "I've seen it first-hand. He's a helluva guy to have on your team. He's a frisky little guy out there and likes to be in the mix. He's going to bring a lot of character, a lot of speed, a lot of great plays and he'll be fiery out there too."
Max Domi brings a lot more offensive talent than his dad. He produced 20 goals and 56 points in 80 games last season split between the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars. He added 13 points in 19 playoff games with Dallas.
"A lot's been made about the competitiveness and being in your face and all that which is part of his personality," said captain John Tavares. "But he's a playmaker. He's extremely quick and very strong."
"I don't want to say I was underrating this because he's an accomplished player," said coach Sheldon Keefe. "But he's faster and more skilled than I thought and that's been exciting."
Domi has been skating on a line with Nylander during camp and Monday will be their second game together. Domi is on left wing and Nylander is getting a consistent look at centre for the first time in the NHL. This will be the first real test of training camp as the Montreal Canadiens will have most of their regulars in the lineup.
"They got a good lineup, so do we," said Domi. "It's going to be pretty close to an NHL game out there. I'm looking forward to it."
Tavares had a colourful way of describing Domi, who stands 5-foot-10, 208 pounds.
"He's a fire hydrant," Tavares said last week. "He's got the width to him in the lower half and he's able to get over the puck and be strong on it."
"Fire hydrant? That checks out, for sure," he said. "Not the tallest guy, but pretty wide, I guess, so that makes sense. That's a nice compliment. Thanks Johnny."
How did he develop that strength on the puck?
"Lots of wall squats as a kid," he said with a chuckle. "Genetically is probably the main thing, though. My dad's not the tallest guy. He's pretty much a square, so kind of the same sort of thing that I got going. There's pros and cons to everything, right? As a smaller guy you got to take advantage [in] whatever way you can and being a little bit lower to the ice, being a little but quicker, is something that I've tried to work on."
Tavares is also a former London Knight so there was already a lot of Ontario Hockey League banter in the Leafs room before Domi arrived.
"The OHL is like a cult," Auston Matthews told TSN's BarDown last season. "They follow it, talk about it like I've never seen before."
Will there be even more talk now with Domi in the mix?
"Another London guy is probably just going to add it more and piss a lot of people off, which will be great," Marner said. "And they're supposed to win it all, so it's even better."
Domi was more diplomatic.
"Mitchy definitely loves his London days as do I, so we're not shy to talk about it," Domi said. "I mean, junior hockey is the best time of your life so you're always going to reflect on that and lots of stories, lots of great memories ... We're going to keep talking about them, for sure."
Nick Robertson will skate alongside Nylander and Domi on Monday. He leads the NHL preseason with 19 shots on net and finally scored on Saturday in Montreal.
"Definitely some pressure off my back to finally get one," said the 22-year-old winger.
It didn't look like it was going to be Robertson's night for a while, though. First, he took a stick to the face.
"I got a knob to my nose," he said. "I actually had a nose bleed [in Friday's game] in my left nostril and [Saturday] was on my right so that activated the left one and both of them [going] there so they put two nose plugs in there. I could barely breathe."
Robertson then got sent to the box for goalie interference despite making only minor contact with Sam Montembeault and appearing to get pushed into the crease.
"I was a little upset with the penalty at first, so I was a little pouty," he admitted.
But upon exiting the box, the puck sprung loose, and Robertson got a breakaway, which he buried.
"It is great," said Keefe. "He is a goal scorer, so as much as you can tell him he is playing well, he wants to see it go in."
Saturday marked Robertson's fourth game of the preseason. Prior to that, he had not played since sustaining a shoulder injury last December. He had not seen the puck go in the net off his stick since his first NHL game last season, which was Oct. 20.
"It happened so fast," he said of Saturday's goal. "It was just nice to get that one especially after a few games where a post or a nice save from the goalie and all these chances and finally, like, finally it went in. The boys were encouraging which was nice so hopefully I can continue that."
Robertson is currently skating in the spot that Calle Jarnkrok occupied at the start of camp. Jarnkrok, who twisted his neck during a play in practice, hasn't suited up in a preseason game yet.
"You don't want to be hurt during training camp, but it is what it is," Jarnkrok said following Monday's practice with the non-game group. "I'll try and make the best of it when I get back."
The Leafs wrap up the exhibition schedule with a home-and-home series against the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday and Saturday.
"It's nice to be able to play at least one, to get one in your body before the season starts," Jarnkrok said. "Felt good today so hopefully I can get in here soon."
"We expect him to play later in the week," Keefe confirmed.
Matthew Knies scored in both games over the weekend. He leads all Leafs forwards with five points in the preseason.
"He's looked really good," said goalie Martin Jones, who got the win on Saturday. "Offensively, obviously he's pretty gifted, but I thought a lot of plays in our own end, on the wall, he made some really good plays to help us break out."
Keefe highlighted this as an area Knies has improved upon. So, what is the 20-year-old winger doing differently?
"A lot of it comes from shoulder checking," Knies explained. "Just making sure I know my surroundings when going to the wall even before the puck gets there and [deciding] what play I'm going to make prior to getting there. That's something I really worked on and focused on is just getting my head up and making the right play. There were a few I kind of mishandled there but I'm still getting better at it, still working, and it's going to get much better."
Saturday's game was designed to be a physical challenge for the young forwards on the Leafs. Knies, like Robertson, played Friday in Montreal before flying home that night and then flying back on Saturday afternoon.
"It's a lot," said Knies. "The NHL demands a lot physically and mentally, so I'm fortunate that I got this opportunity to challenge myself and compete and show I could do it on a back to-back basis ... I played pretty well. There were a few mistakes that could be cleaned up but overall really went well and I was glad that I could keep my legs going and keep moving and make some plays."
Knies will skate alongside Tavares and Sam Lafferty on Monday.
While the forward lines have been relatively unchanged through camp, the defence pairs are less settled due to injury.
John Klingberg, who had been skating alongside Jake McCabe, has not hit the ice since tweaking something in his upper body early in Wednesday's game in St. Thomas, Ont. against the Buffalo Sabres.
"He's not going to skate for a little bit," Keefe said, "but we think he'll turn the corner pretty quickly."
Conor Timmins, another offensive-minded, right-shot option, sustained a significant lower-body injury on Friday night.
"It's definitely week-to-week," Keefe said.
So, McCabe will skate with Timothy Liljegren on Monday. Morgan Rielly will remain with T.J. Brodie, who made his preseason debut on Saturday.
The third pair will feature Simon Benoit and Mikko Kokkonen. Benoit, who missed the start of camp due to back spasms, also made his preseason debut on Saturday. Kokkonen, 22, is making a dark-horse push for a roster spot.
"Kokkonen, for me, has been maybe the surprise of camp," said Keefe, who made a point of offering a fist bump to the Finn before leaving the ice on Monday morning. "He's been very, very solid all the way through. You look at where he was last year to now, it's been remarkable and a credit to him because from [the rookie tournament in] Traverse City right through to preseason, for me, he's been kind of under the radar but every day he's been very solid."
The defensive-minded Kokkonen played 36 games with the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League last season picking up six assists.
Mark Giordano, who had been skating with Liljegren, did not take part in practice on Monday. The team declared it a maintenance day. The oldest player in the NHL will celebrate his 40th birthday on Tuesday.
After stopping all 17 shots in 40 minutes of work on Friday, Ilya Samsonov will make his second preseason start on Monday and is scheduled to play the full game.
Joseph Woll, who missed Saturday's scheduled start due to illness, was back on the ice at practice. He's only played 30 minutes so far. How much playing time does he need to feel ready for the regular season?
"It's funny," the 25-year-old goalie said. "I was actually talking to [goalie coach] Curtis [Sanford] about that. I haven't really had a preseason yet so I don't know if I can answer that question. Unfortunately I've been injured to start the year for a few years and then with COVID and stuff, I haven't had a normal preseason. So, truthfully, it's a feeling-out process. The past couple years I've kind of been thrown in the fire. I've gotten used to getting ready and playing out of nowhere, so it's been nice to have a preseason."
Woll didn't suit up in a game until Nov. 25 last year, but quickly made up for lost time. He opened the season with 12 straight wins with the Toronto Marlies. When the Leafs faced injuries in net in February, Woll got called up and played well going 6-1-0 with a .932 save percentage. Woll played so well that he started ahead of Matt Murray in the playoffs after Samsonov got hurt.
Woll hopes starting with the Leafs from Day 1 of the season will give him a boost as he looks to build on that performance last season.
"Being able to be part of a team in training camp is pretty awesome," he said with a wide smile. "Growing up, I loved watching watching [the HBO show] Hard Knocks and stuff for the NFL and it's kind of cool I get to live that. Pretty sweet."
The Leafs will head to Gravenhurst, Ont. on Tuesday for a team-bonding trip.
Jones, who found out he would be replacing Woll in Montreal on Saturday morning, stopped 33 of 34 shots against the Canadiens.
"I felt good," the 33-year-old said. "Sometimes when you're under pressure early in the game it gives you a good opportunity to get involved and start feeling good and feel some pucks."
After starting 48 games for the Seattle Kraken last season, Jones signed a one-year deal with the Leafs this summer. He's No. 3 on the depth chart but could be attractive to other teams should the cap-strapped Leafs put him on waivers at the end of training camp.
"I'm just trying to play well," said Jones, who has a .939 save percentage in three preseason appearances. "Right now I’m a Toronto Maple Leaf and I'm just trying to play as well as I can here."
"He has a good, positive attitude," said Keefe. "He recognizes the situation he is in. He is just going to control what he can, and I think he has done a good job of that."
Is it possible that the Leafs will carry three goalies to start the season?
"Everything's up in the air," said Keefe, who defers to general manager Brad Treliving and assistant general manager Brandon Pridham on these matters. "They do what they do to make it all work from a salary-cap perspective and obviously that will be a big factor in decisions that are made."
Leafs lines at Monday's skate:
Bertuzzi - Matthews - Marner
Domi - Nylander - Robertson
Knies - Tavares - Lafferty
Gregor - Kampf - Reaves
Rielly - Brodie
McCabe - Liljegren
Benoit - Kokkonen