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The Other Half – Habs versus Leafs

The Habs had their second preseason game on Monday night, hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Bell Centre. On Saturday, they sent a squad to Toronto that consisted of a few NHLers, some kids looking to make an impression, and a few guys with hopes to stick in Montreal. On Monday night we saw the other half – the Group A of early training camp.

The forward group had more hopefuls than sure things.

Drouin – Dvorak – Anderson

Harvey-Pinard – Evans – Armia

Martel – Dea – Ylonen

Pezzetta – Mysak – Bourque

Fans were looking forward to Drouin’s return from the leave that ended his season last year, as well as their first look at Dvorak. This top line was the only line composed of three confirmed NHLers.

Jake Evans will make the NHL roster, but his placement in the lineup is yet to be determined. His pairing with Armia would suggest he will be slotted for significant defensive responsibilities, which was a foregone conclusion.

Ylonen will be looking to make an impression for the purposes of call-up, but he will begin his season in Laval. The remainder of the forward group is slated for somewhere other than Montreal.

The defence group was far more interesting than the forward group.

Guhle – Savard

Norlinder – Chiarot

Schueneman – Wideman

Savard and Chiarot are veteran defencemen who were paired with two kids trying to make an impression, and perhaps land themselves a roster spot. Guhle is a long shot to stay, but Norlinder has been playing against men in Sweden and could well win the 6D role.

Wideman has been playing in Russia where he was defenceman of the year last year. He will be trying to steal a roster spot to reclaim a role in the NHL.

Jake Allen and Kevin Poulin were the goalies.

A preseason game is no proxy for an intelligence test, but that Drouin-Dvorak-Anderson line had Coach Dominique Ducharme looking like a genius.

It didn’t take long for the trio to make its mark and they made it often. Josh Anderson scored a power play goal at 9:24 of the first period, with assists from Dvorak and Drouin, and then Dvorak scored another on the man advantage at 13:06, assisted by Drouin and Armia. At 12:40 of the second period, Anderson scored his second power play goal of the night, this time assisted by Dvorak and Wideman. Then at 18:11 of the third period, Dvorak and Anderson assisted on an empty net goal from Pezzetta.

Anderson with two goals and assist, Dvorak with a goal and three assists and Drouin with two assists. Nine points between them. That’s not a bad outing for a line seeing their first NHL game together, preseason or not. I love the idea of giving Drouin, an east-west player, two guys who go straight for the net. Dvorak is set up nicely with a playmaker to play give-and-go with, and a right shot power forward who is always thinking shot. We also caught a glimpse of what Anderson can do with a playmaker to spring him open streaking down the wing.

Evans and Armia picked up where they left off in the Stanley Cup Final, and otherwise there were some positive signs in the forward group. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Harvey-Pinard see a game or two in Montreal at some point this season. Pezzetta made a case that he wouldn’t be out of place there if injuries warranted a call up. Mysak also looks like he has the goods to be an eventual NHLer.

The defence group showed some positive signs that had fans breathing a sigh of relief after the Saturday night game.

It is pretty clear that Guhle has all the tools necessary to one day be an effective NHLer. Here’s hoping that GM Marc Bergevin has all the patience necessary to make sure it’s not too soon, and that they don’t make the developmental errors with this kid that they have made with others.

Norlinder has a skill set the Habs have been lacking since they let Andrei Markov walk in free agency in the summer of 2017. Norlinder is a beautiful skater who may have a better tape-to-tape pass than any other defenceman on the Habs roster. He is consistently thinking offence and has acknowledged the defensive side of the game is where he needs work. As Ducharme says, the Habs want their defencemen playing defence. We’ll see how this one goes, but if we are in for a year of the Habs trying to beat out of Norlinder all that makes him wonderful in the name of making him a complete D-man, I hope he’s returned to Europe.

I was pleasantly surprised by Wideman. He’s an ideal depth D for the Habs, and I liked what I saw from a puck-moving perspective. He may be the kind of placeholder that allows the kids to develop properly.

What can we say about the goalies? Allen looks just as ready as we expected and our expectations for Poulin were low.

I should probably say a word or two about the other guys.

From the Toronto end of things, I thought Marner looked engaged and Mrazek has the potential to be a solid platoon option with Campbell. With the guys the Leafs saw leave the team this summer, they need additions like Kampf, Kase and Ritchie to fill significant roles. I thought they got off to a pretty good start.

The next few days should see significant cuts from both teams as they try to pare down to the genuine decisions to be made before the regular season begins.

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