Leafs play final warm-up games ahead of World Cup

Photo Credit: Charles Leclaire/USA TODAY SPORTS

Yesterday was a crowded day in World Cup preliminary action, as six of eight teams played their final exhibition games before they all start mattering. Prior to that, Finland and the United States wrapped their schedule up on Tuesday night. Let’s look at the Leafs representatives’ involvement!

Finland (2) vs United States (3)

This was a fun game to watch, as the Finns had a ton of powerplay time in which to get creative. Unfortunately for them, they appeared to be facing playoffs Jonathan Quick rather than regular season Jonathan Quick, and as such got lost a nailbiter.

Leo Komarov played 14:35 for Finland, including two and a half minutes of powerplay time. He spent his even strength time paired with Erik Haula and Lauri Korpikoski. While he didn’t find himself a spot on the scoresheet, Uncle Leo blocked a shot, registered a takeaway, and was a +1.

On the other side of the ice, James van Riemsdyk had a solid game on a line with Derek Stepan and Patrick Kane. In 13:28 of ice time, JVR took four shots, threw a hit, and registered a takeaway. None of those shots were more lethal than the scoring chance he had above, though.

Sweden (2) vs Europe (6)

Jhonas Enroth didn’t play in this game. He wasn’t even the backup. I’m starting to wonder if we’ll see him dress in the actual tournament barring injury; his first appearance may have lost him the backup role in favour of Jacob Markstrom.

We’ll see how things progress, though. Or if it matters all too much; the Leafs might be content with him just getting familiar with the city and the atmosphere.

Russia (2) vs Canada (3) (OT)

While many were starting to hop on the Nikita Zaitsev bandwagon during his first two games against the Czechs, those who only tune into these tournaments for Canada got their first look last night.

The data side of the game said some not-so-great things; Russia only took 6 of the 24 shot attempts that occurred while he was on the ice at even strength. But, once again, he and Dimitri Orlov were used in a feverish attempt to shut down Canada’s top forwards, particularly in a brief period where they held the lead. Many were once again impressed by his positioning and ability to carry the puck, and assist his teammates in the cycle when they had offensive zone time.

As a matter of fact, Zaitsev was Russia’s most used skater last night, playing 21:56 in a game where nobody else sniffed 20 minutes. Canada coach Mike Babcock was pleased to see it, praising his future Leafs player after the game. 

via Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star:

“We recruited him real hard. We think he’s an important player for the Leafs going ahead. I like that they’re putting him out there all the time. He must be a good player. Most coaches are pretty smart, like to win. So they play the players that help them do that. If he’s important to them, that means he has a chance to be an important Leaf.”

Beyond that, he had two shots on goal, threw a hit, and blocked two shots, and was on the ice to start 3-on-3 overtime once again with Alexander Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk.

Czech Republic (3) vs North America (2)

Four Leafs played in this one, and while they didn’t end up picking up points, Roman Polak and Milan Michalek picked up the bragging rights in a hard fought game between the dark horse actual team and the scrappy underdog fantasy squad.

Michalek played with Jakub Voracek and Tomas Plekanec for much of the game, seeing the ice for 15:48, including time on both the powerplay and penalty kill. He picked up two shots on goal, threw a hit, and blocked two shots. 

Polak remained with Michal Kempny on the point, and took two shots, blocked two coming the other way, played over five minutes on the penalty kill, and ended up just shy of 18 minutes total. He also had four hits, but none of them more controversial than this. 

Polak, as we’ve seen a few times over the course of his career here, made an iffy decision and slammed Connor McDavid into the boards while the generational talent was in a vulnerable decision. Who came to Connor’s rescue, though? None other than Auston Matthews. Hopefully that won’t cause too much tension in the Toronto room, but I’d rather Matthews side with his 2023 teammate than his 2017 teammate any day of the week.

Matthews also did another cool thing, scoring his first goal of the tournament to tie things up midway through the third period:

Matthews started the game with Mark Scheifele and Dylan Larkin on what I like to call (aka, just started calling) the all-Nation Network kid line, but got moved to the top to form a super-trio with McDavid and Jack Eichel towards the end of the game.  He ended the night with four shots on goal, a blocked shot that made us all fear for his life, and a takeaway in the span of 17:42, almost six and a half minutes of which were spent on the powerplay.

Behind him, Morgan Rielly was held off the board, taking three shots on goal and blocking two in return over the span of 20:10. Once again, he spent most of his time with Aaron Ekblad.

The Fancystats

Player GP CF% CF60 CA60 CF%Rel CF60Rel CA60Rel
James Van Riemsdyk 2 52.38 61.92 56.29 6.51 12.95 -2.56
Milan Michalek 3 49.32 56.37 57.94 2.04 7.94 -5.25
Auston Matthews 3 53.23 54.5 47.89 -0.01 -2.11 1.84
Roman Polak 3 45.83 47.77 56.45 -2.96 -0.69 -3.77
Leo Komarov 3 44.44 37.83 47.29 -4.44 -1.84 -3.93
Morgan Rielly 3 48.35 51.13 54.62 -7.46 -5.57 -4.89
Nikita Zaitsev 3 34.72 33.53 63.04 -19.03 -14.45 -10.73

As promised, we’ve been keeping track of the seven Leafs representatives from a puck possession standpoint over the course of the festivities, and, well, the sample is still kinda small and pointless for anything other than casual reading. 

What’s changed since last game? Well, Zaitsev’s numbers continue to tumble as “send out him and Orlov” appears to be Oleg Znarok’s strategy to handle just about any form of adversity Team Russia faces. Michalek appears to play well with star players, and Matthews plays quality hockey when he’s allowed to play in the offensive zone. Also, James van Riemsdyk is, as expected, generally good at generating offence; especially when you put him in a position to succeed.

We’ll revisit these numbers once again when everybody has another Game Played under their belt.