MONTREAL — Toronto Maple Leafs winger Nick Robertson stacked up three points for the second consecutive NHL pre-season game.
After recording two goals and one assist against the Ottawa Senators last Friday, the 21-year-old recorded three assists in a 5-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night.
”He's just playing really good hockey right now,” said Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe about Robertson. “He's doing things that he needs to do to show that he's wanting a spot on the team and that he's ready to play in the NHL. So as he continues to stack these games up, of course, we're paying attention to that.”
Robertson, who is fighting for a spot on the Leafs' roster, played on Toronto’s second line alongside William Nylander and Alexander Kerfoot. The winger said he is “trying to gain confidence” on the little details that can help the team.
“I think it just started with my feet, another strong piece of my game that I think is really what I'm about,” Robertson said. “I think a couple of those assists were just because of me forechecking pretty hard and just trying to keep the game simple. Fortunately, I think I got lucky on a couple of them and fortunately (Kerfoot) and (Nylander) put the pucks in the net.”
Nylander was no match for the Canadiens and picked up two goals and one assist in the contest. Kerfoot scored two goals late in the third period.
In his first full start for the Leafs, Matt Murray made 28 saves and allowed one goal. Keefe said that he didn’t evaluate his top players but made an exception for his netminder’s performance.
“I thought he was just terrific all night long,” Keefe said. “Even the goal that went in, I mean, even that one he made the save and then it's the rebound that we don't take care of and that goes in on him. I just thought he was really, really good. He's the highlight of the game for me.”
Murray even had to compose himself and deny Mike Hoffman during a five-on-three penalty kill.
“It's good to see one in pre-season, you know they're gonna come,” Murray said. “I thought the guys did well, we got a lot of penalties tonight and (the penalty killing units) did a really nice job. We're building each and every day.”
Jonathan Drouin scored Montreal's lone goal, while Juraj Slafkovsky picked up one assist. Jake Allen, also in his first full start of the pre-season, made 25 saves and allowed four goals.
The Canadiens remained winless in pre-season action. Both teams meet again on Oct. 12 at the Bell Centre for both teams’ regular-season openers.
“There was a good (Maple Leafs) team tonight and I’m happy we played against them,” said Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis. “I know that we still didn’t win but from a scoring chance and shot volume standpoint, it was closer than the final score. To be able to evaluate a game like this, we really have true information so it’s important.”
Montreal will host the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday and then head to Gander, N.L., to play a final pre-season game against the Sens on Thursday.
“We’re getting closer to that now,” St. Louis said about finalizing his squad. "We’re heading to the Maritimes, it will be four-five days together and it will be very intense.
“I think it’s important that we travel together, that we have dinner together, to get closer and finalize all of this. To know what our team will look like and we’ll have Monday and Tuesday of next week to dot the Is and cross the Ts for our concepts and our systems.”
It took the Leafs just over two minutes to score the first goal of the game. Mitch Marner, Michael Bunting and Nylander combined for the tick-tack-toe play on the power play to fool Montreal’s penalty killing unit and break the ice.
Toronto added a second goal when Aston-Reese struck a loose puck that bounced off the corner and back inside the left faceoff circle.
The Leafs took a three-goal lead in the second period after Robertson dispossessed Justin Barron and Arber Xhekaj along the boards and located a wide open Nylander in front of the net. The Calgary-born Swede went backhand to beat Allen.
Montreal tried to respond with a goal of their own but Murray stood tall. Mike Hoffman connected with Slafkovsky on a two-on-one but the netminder denied the rookie his first pre-season goal.
“It’s a tough play because the puck carrier is taking it, kind of, on an angle towards the boards,” Murray said. “So I'm kind of travelling the opposite direction when the pass gets made. It's a nice pass by whoever that was and I just tried to get a read on it and was a little bit late, to be honest. I tried to just get something.”
The Canadiens finally scored with 5:45 remaining in the game. Slafkovsky found Drouin inside Murray’s crease to spoil the netminder’s shutout bid.
Kerfoot scored two goals to seal the win. The centre regained Toronto’s three-goal advantage less than a minute later when his shot from along the boards bounced off Allen’s side and into the back of the net.
The 28-year-old then grabbed Allen’s rebound on the power play to notch his second of the night.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 3, 2022.
Tristan D'Amours, The Canadian Press