Finally, a hockey game.
That it’s a pre-season match doesn’t matter to Auston Matthews.
On Monday night, the Maple Leafs superstar will get into his second pre-season game and first since Sept. 24 when the Leafs visit the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre.
“We’re all looking forward to getting into a game situation tonight and playing and competing against guys who are not on our team,” Matthews said after the morning skate at the Ford Performance Centre. “It will be a good test for everybody.”
Matthews will centre his usual linemates, left winger Michael Bunting and right winger Mitch Marner, for the first time in a game in the pre-season.
“You want to produce and score, but it’s about building the right habits and making sure you are taking care of the little things,” Matthews said. “Responsible in both ends, making sure we are not giving up anything, let the offensive instincts take over and try to work the puck in the offensive zone and get everybody involved. Get the pace up, get your legs back into it, your lungs. That’s what pre-season is best for.”
Matt Murray will start in goal and is expected to play the full game, with Ilya Samsonov backing him up as coach Sheldon Keefe goes with an NHL-heavy lineup.
Nick Robertson, who has scored three goals in the past two games, will get another great chance to prove his worth and secure a spot when he skates on a line with Alex Kerfoot and William Nylander.
“We just want to see him continue to grow,” Keefe said of Robertson. “This is going to be a much more NHL-like lineup that we are seeing in Montreal.”
On the whole, Keefe knows what he wants to see from his players on Monday night.
“My focus for our team is to go and play a very good, sound and structured game, (the top line) included,” Keefe said. “I’m not worried about the offensive piece. Over time, that really comes. This time of year, you want to see the structure fall in place.
“The guys who have not played in as many games, you want to get out some of the summer habits. That’s what I’m focused on.”
In the group not playing on Monday, Jake Muzzin and Rasmus Sandin were again skating as a defence pair.
And we may have got a sneak preview of the Leafs’ third line, as David Kampf was between Pierre Engvall and Calle Jarnkrok. Engvall continues to work his way back from an off-season foot/ankle injury, while Jarnkrok was back after missing practice on Sunday because of illness.
On another pad, captain John Tavares (oblique) and defenceman Timothy Liljegren (hernia surgery) skated on their own.
“Very preliminary and early for both of them,” Keefe said. “Really just getting a feel for where they are at. Both guys are limited in how much they can move and rotate.”
BetOnline, meanwhile, has set the over/under for total Marner points in the regular season at 94.5. Last year, Marner had a career-high 97 points.
The Leafs made their initial round of cuts on Monday, sending 10 players to the Toronto Marlies. On that list, and there were no surprises, were defencemen Matt Hellickson, Tommy Miller, Noel Hoefenmayer and Matteo Pietroniro, and forwards Joseph Blandisi, Curtis Douglas, Max Ellis, Pavel Gogolev, Logan Shaw and Graham Slaggert.
The projected #Leafs lineup for Monday night:
Michael Bunting-Auston Matthews-Mitch Marner
Nick Robertson-Alex Kerfoot-William Nylander
Zach Aston-Reese-Pontus Holmberg-Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Alex Steeves-Adam Gaudette-Denis Malgin
Morgan Rielly-TJ Brodie
Mark Giordano-Justin Holl
Filip Kral-Victor Mete