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Canadiens @ Maple Leafs game recap: Xavier Ouellet and Artturi Lehkonen pace Montreal in lopsided victory

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The B-teams faced off in Toronto Monday night, and Montreal laid a walloping on the Maple Leafs.

NHL: Preseason-Montreal Canadiens at Toronto Maple Leafs Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

In the first of their two pre-season meetings, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens each iced a not-quite-AHL-but-not-fully-NHL lineup. For the Canadiens, it was a chance for many fringe players to prove they deserve a longer look at the top level, while for others it was a key game to mesh with their potential linemates for the year.

Toronto was looking to find their few remaining NHL pieces, and help settle their backup goaltender debate. Garret Sparks got the call between the pipes, while Antti Niemi anchored the net for Montreal for the entire game.

Both sides, despite the lack of true NHL-level high-end talent, traded plenty of chances early on, with Adam Cracknell and Jeremy Bracco testing Niemi, but the Finnish netminder stood tall. For the Canadiens, Nick Suzuki took a pass in transition and headmanned an odd-man rush where he rifled a puck past the Leafs goalie, but was unable to beat the crossbar.

A Byron Froese penalty would test the Canadiens’ special teams, but some smart penalty-killing limited Toronto to just two shots on net.

With the momentum growing after the kill, the Canadiens would strike, thanks in large part to the patience of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who grabbed a loose puck and waited for his open lane to shoot. His shot bounced away, but Artturi Lehkonen pounced on the rebound and with the net wide open slammed it home for the opening goal.

Much like their game against Washington, Montreal kept their foot down after their opening goal, adding another in short order. Some good cycle play between Brett Lernout and Joel Armia got the puck across the blue line to Xavier Ouellet. The defender uncorked a low, hard shot that may have deflected off of Michael Chaput in front for a second goal.

Even in the pre-season, the Maple Leafs opted to challenge for goaltender interference, which ultimately was unsuccessful, leaving the goal intact.

A four-on-four to start the second period allowed Toronto to get on the board thanks to a weird deflection off Rinat Valiev’s stick. Kasperi Kapanen broke in off the wing and got a pass from Marincin, then his shot hit Valiev’s stick and flipped over Niemi and into the net to put the Leafs on the board.

In a recurring theme this pre-season, Montreal battled right back and netted two goals in rapid succession to put some distance between themselves and the Leafs. First was Xavier Ouellet jumping all over a slow-moving pass from Joel Armia, and picking his spot as he sniped it by Sparks for his second goal of the night.

Not to be outdone, Valiev threaded a perfect stretch pass to Charles Hudon, who in turn spun off an Andreas Borgman check and slid the puck by Sparks to further extend the Canadiens’ lead in the second period.

Even another penalty kill couldn’t slow down the Canadiens, as they killed off the penalty, and immediately stormed down the ice to pepper Sparks with shots again.

A misplay by the netminder behind his net eventually led to another goal against. Sparks went to shovel the puck along, but turned it over to Hudon, who fed Lehkonen for a chance. The Finnish forward buried the rebound for his second of the night, and increased the lead to four goals.

Back-to-back penalties by Byron Froese and Ouellet handed the Leafs a five-on-three power play in the dying minutes of the second period. The penalty-killers and Niemi again rose to the occasion, stifling Toronto’s offence.

Two power plays before the halfway mark of the third period allowed the Canadiens to keep the pressure on Toronto. Even without a goal on the man advantage again, it allowed the Canadiens to burn off the clock, and even work a bit on their system, which, based on the results, could use some improvements before the season begins.

A late penalty by Borgman on Hudon saw the Canadiens’ forward limp off the ice temporarily, and the Leafs defender sent to the box. In what looked like the only real negative of the night, the Canadiens once again failed to find a goal with the man advantage, but when leading 5-1, it’s not nearly as big of a deal.

The game ended without much further incident, and Montreal continues to roll during the pre-season, pushing their record to 4-1-0 heading into their rematch on Wednesday with a proper Maple Leafs lineup.

Thoughts

  • Yes, it’s true that these were far from the NHL rosters we’ll be seeing in a few days’ time, but the Canadiens turned in another outstanding performance where the biggest gripe was on the power play. Players who are supposed to be standing out are, and I would find it hard to believe that a coach would find many faults with this game.
  • Antti Niemi continues to impress. He isn’t always pretty in net, but he continues to get the job done for the Canadiens. With all respect to Charlie Lindgren, the Finnish vet has the clear inside track to the backup job in Montreal, and if he plays like he did last night, that’s just fine.
  • Ouellet and Lehkonen both scored two goals, and Hudon had a highlight-reel one of his own. Things are looking fairly bright for some of the Habs’ young forwards and new acquisitions.