For the second day in a row, we have to endure the Ottawa Senators. Not just the Ottawa Senators either, but a watered down, preseason version that could still probably beat the regular Ottawa Senators.
Unfortunately, for the second day in a row as well, the Leafs lost to the Ottawa Senators. I’d say it’s not a good look, but it’s preseason. Who really cares, except for Sens fans.
Regardless, the game was still played, and as boring as it was (seriously though, even when the Leafs dominated the third, it still wasn’t interesting in the slightest), I still have to come at you with some takeaways, and thankfully, there were still quite a few, so let’s get started.
The Leafs lost in the most Leaf way possible, not only losing to the Ottawa Senators, but also seeing all four goals come because of a former Leaf. A Ron Hainsey power play assist, a Connor Brown assist that became a goal, a Tyler Ennis goal, and a Brown empty net goal all contributed towards a 4-3 loss to the Sens. But, at least Matthews got a couple of goals in Ottawa, he likes to do that.
#1 – Never separate Matthews and Nylander ever again
The Leafs original dynamic duo got their long awaited reunion early, as it seems like Babcock is going to be using them together with Johnsson. He gave that line a brief stint last year, and lost in the chaos that was that stretch of hockey (we had a few high-scoring games against the Flyers, Blackhawks, and Lightning in case you forgot) was the fact that line was pretty dominant.
Of line combinations with at least 100 5v5 minutes together last season, Johnsson-Matthews-Nylander was the third best line combo in 5v5 CF% with 56.86% (the other two were, funny enough, a couple of third line combos with Nylander on them), and first in 5v5 xGF% with 65.7%. For some reason, Babcock decided to split them up.
In their first game together, they were by far the best line on the ice for both teams. They didn’t do anything crazy, since they’re all still rusty, but they always seemed to be in the offensive zone, and they chipped in for two of the three goals, both from Matthews and assisted by Nylander, with the second also assisted by Johnsson. Hopefully they all get a long look together to start the season.
#2 – Rasmus Sandin looked pretty good
I don’t have the numbers to back me up here (Natural Stat Trick has decided to only put in the numbers for the first two periods tonight, so I’m not really going to look at them), but, at the very least, Sandin did his job tonight, which compared to the other defensemen, stood out to me.
Maybe it’s just a force of habit for me, having watched guys like Nikita Zaitsev, Ron Hainsey, and Roman Polak constantly turn the puck over and look lost, it’s refreshing to see a defenseman be able to make a simple pass up the ice. Rielly was fine tonight, and Ceci didn’t look completely lost alongside him, but the other pair of Kivihalme and Liljegren was pretty invisible, so the fact that Sandin stood out and in a good way warrents credit.
And he did all this while playing on his weak side, and carrying another particular defenseman…
#3 – Ben Harpur did not look pretty or good
As I write this, “Harpur” is currently trending Canada-wide on Twitter, and usually that is either a good or bad thing, and trust me, it’s a bad thing. It seemed like most situations I saw Ben Harpur in tonight, there was a good decision and a bad decision, and Harpur usually made a worse decision than the bad decision. Like, he got walked by Connor Brown, that should say a lot about his play tonight.
Connor Brown just blew by Ben Harpur. pic.twitter.com/9WNt1HOdwX
— Nick DeSouza (@NickDeSouza_) September 19, 2019
He also got in a fight, which was good because it meant he wasn’t on the ice for five minutes, but bad because he did when the Leafs HAD THE PUCK IN THE OFFENSIVE ZONE, and because he instigated he TOOK A PENALTY!
To the surprise of nobody, Babcock loved his game tonight, so I can’t wait to spend the entire season wishing that Roman Polak could come back to take his spot.
Babcock: "I thought Johnny was unbelievable for us, Matty had a good night, and I thought on the back end, I really liked Morgan Rielly, really skated, Sandman had a good night. Harpur did his job for us. I was impressed with him." Added he liked Ceci with Rielly. #Leafs
— Terry Koshan (@koshtorontosun) September 19, 2019
So, how long do you think Babs survives? Thanksgiving? Christmas? Maybe til the playoffs?
#4 – Playing the Senators is gonna be rough
For the longest time, it seemed like the Leafs were the Senators kryptonite. The Leafs seemed to always knock them out of the playoffs, and there was even a stretch between the end of the 2011-12 season and the end of the 2013-14 season where the Leafs had a 9-1 record. The reason why I bring that stretch up is because since then, the Leafs have gone 7-15 against the Sens, only winning one season series 3-2 in 2014-15.
Now, half of that is the Leafs being awful, but even since the Leafs have become competitive, they still only have a 4-8 record, and all three of the Sens teams were awful (and yes, I’m including the team that fluked their way to the conference finals).
Some of it is bad goaltending (hey Garret Sparks), some of it is just really lazy play, and a lot of it is just plain old bad luck, brought upon us for our playoff success against them. If these two preseason games are any indication (and they probably shouldn’t be), it looks like we’re in for a bunch of sloppy games against the Sens again this year. This isn’t even considering that Brown, Ennis, Hainsey, and Zaitsev are inevitably going to play well.
#5 – The backup situation isn’t solved yet
Again, this is just one preseason game, but in case you thought trading Garret Sparks was going to magically solve our backup problem, we still got a bit of a ways to go. While Hutchinson was much calmer in the net than Sparks, he also allowed three goals on 20 shots, and two of them were pretty iffy ones to allow.
The first goal was on the power play, but it was off of a wrist shot from the point that went top corner. The second was probably the one we can write off, as it took a bounce off of Connor Brown to beat him. Then, the third one was a similar shot from a bit closer up from Tyler Ennis, and it was also off of a Mitch Marner-esque turnover in front, so you can cut him some slack there as well.
Again, Hutch was far from bad, but he was also far from good, so it’ll be interesting to see between him and Neuvirth (if Neuvirth actually plays) who puts out a decent camp and wins the job to start the season.