Maple Leafs remain hot, knock off Canadiens in pre-season action
MONTREAL — The Toronto Maple Leafs won their third consecutive NHL pre-season game, beating the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 on the road Saturday night.
Matthew Knies, Fraser Minten, and Nicholas Robertson all scored for Toronto, which won its second game against Montreal in as many nights. Kaiden Guhle was the lone goal scorer for Montreal.
The Bell Centre fans were given an appetizer of what the Oct. 11 opener could look like, with all the physicality and animosity of a rivalry game presenting itself.
“It’s not quite the rivalry … but Saturday night at the Bell Centre, if you’re going to play a pre-season game on the road, this is a pretty special place to be,” said Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe. “For a young lineup like we had here tonight, it’s a good spot for them to be. This is a good little segment of the schedule.”
The Maple Leafs were the first team to pick up the pace of play. After a relatively reserved beginning to the game, Toronto showed an organized forecheck and strong cycling, keeping the puck in the offensive zone and enabling the first significant scoring opportunities.
Much like the previous evening’s game, Toronto would be the first team on the scoreboard. Seven minutes into the first period, Knies’ wraparound attempt slid under the skate of Sam Montembeault.
Montreal controlled the remainder of the period and created some dangerous scoring opportunities, using creative passing to find open shots. But the Canadiens were unable to convert, heading into the first intermission down a goal.
Montreal continued the one-way traffic to open the second period as Juraj Slafkovsky found himself on a breakaway two minutes in but was denied by a sprawling Martin Jones.
“He made a good move, I kind of bit on the first pump fake and he was going around me, and I tried to throw a leg back there,” said Jones, who registered 33 saves in a first star performance.
“Sometime when you’re under pressure early in the game it gives you a good opportunity to get involved and start feeling good, start feeling some pucks.”
Despite all the pressure, Toronto netted a second goal on the power play. With Kirby Dach in the box for high-sticking, a defensive zone turnover led to a two-man breakaway that was finished off by Minten.
Toronto added a third goal in the dying moments of the period. Robertson exited the penalty box and found himself all alone in on goal, rifling the puck into the top corner.
Much like the first two periods, Montreal spent the beginning of the third enjoying long stints of control in the Maple Leafs’ end with nothing to show for it. Despite having outshot Toronto 34-22, the Canadiens often found themselves looking to make the extra pass which gave the defence enough time to disrupt the play and avoid an uncontested shot.
“The guys competed, they dug in. At times we were overwhelmed with the competition, but we stuck with it,” said Keefe. “The foundation of the three veteran defencemen and a veteran goaltender really helps us. Then the young forwards were outstanding here again with the competition on the other side.”
Montreal would get one back on the penalty kill with just under 10 minutes left in the final frame. Following a faceoff in the offensive zone, Guhle was able to find space unnoticed and buried Montreal’s first and only goal of the game.
Both teams head to Toronto on Oct. 2 to play their third and final pre-season game against one another.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 30, 2023.