Leafs blank Sabres for 1st pre-season win
Auston Matthews, Matt Read, Andreas Johnsson all score for Toronto
William Nylander was waiting anxiously for a new contract 12 months ago.
In better shape and minus the burden he carried after finally signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs last December, the winger was everywhere Friday night.
Now he just needs to find his range.
Nylander had 15 shot attempts as Toronto's top line, that also included Auston Matthews and Andreas Johnsson, combined for five points in the Leafs' first victory of the NHL pre-season — a 3-0 shutout over the Buffalo Sabres.
"The way he can skate and his edge work, he frees up a lot of space for himself," Matthews said of Nylander before deadpanning: "He's just got to hit the net."
Matthews and Johnsson each had a goal and an assist, while Frederik Andersen stopped all 24 shots he faced in two periods of work for Toronto. Matt Read also scored for the home side. Michael Hutchinson made five saves in relief.
WATCH | Andersen, Matthews lead Leafs to 3-0 win
Nylander's contract impasse came to an end minutes before a Dec. 1 deadline when the restricted free agent signed a six-year deal worth nearly US$7 million per season, and he never really got going in 2018-19, finishing with seven goals and 27 points in 54 games.
"Willie might have had the puck tonight as much as he had last year," Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said. "I'm not kidding. He's got to be feeling good about himself."
Nylander added a goal and two assists in Toronto's seven-game exit to the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs, but really got going at the world championships, where he led the tournament with 18 points (five goals, 13 points) in eight outings.
Nylander, who had six shots on target against the Sabres, is hoping that play translates to the NHL. Friday night was a good start.
"Our line was skating well," Nylander said. "But it would maybe be nice to hit the net on a few."
Linus Ullmark started for the Sabres and stopped 21 shots in 40 minutes of action. Andrew Hammond played the third period and made 10 saves.
The Leafs dropped their first two games of the exhibition schedule to the Ottawa Senators — a 3-1 decision in St. John's, N.L., on Tuesday and a 4-3 setback in the nation's capital the following night.
Unlike many Stanley Cup contenders' training camps, there are jobs to be won in Toronto between now and Oct. 2 when the Leafs open the regular season at home against Ottawa. Spots are up for grabs on the fourth line and third defence pair, while the backup goalie position also needs to be filled.
Toronto was second-best for most of the game's first 10 minutes, but grabbed a 1-0 lead at 9:48 of the opening period on the power play. Matthews saw his initial shot blocked before Kenny Agostino whipped a quick backhand from the side of the net that went under Ullmark and right to Johnsson.
Andersen, who allowed one goal on 13 shots in his pre-season debut Tuesday, robbed Rasmus Asplund at the other end before Nylander — who's switched from No. 29 to No. 88 this season — fired high at the other end.
The first sporting event held at Scotiabank Arena since Game 5 of the NBA Finals back in June, Friday had a decidedly different feel in a matchup where both teams dressed less than half of their projected regular-season rosters.
But the goalies did their best to provide some entertainment with a string of nice saves in the second.
Ullmark robbed Nylander of a sure goal with his skate before Andersen snapped out the glove to deny Jean-Sebastien Dea.
"Some big saves there," Matthews said of his netminder. "Hopefully he's not having to make that many come regular-season time."
Nylander was then stopped on a breakaway, but he deftly set up Matthews for Toronto's second at 12:15.
Matt Read making most of tryout
Read, who's also in Toronto on a PTO, made it 3-0 at 9:40 of the final period on a nice toe drag after rookie defenceman Rasmus Sandin poked the puck off a Sabres' stick in the neutral zone.
Casey Mittelstadt had a chance to break the shutout later in the third after stepping around Sandin, but his shot found iron.
The Sabres and the Leafs meet again Saturday night in Buffalo.
Babcock said he's starting to get some clarity on which players will stick in Toronto as training camp approaches the midway point.
"The separation between our guys and the other guys, it grows every day," he said. "The players that are going to end up playing here, they're just going to separate themselves."
Blues get past Jets in overtime
David Perron knew he wasn't playing his best in the first period against the Winnipeg Jets on Friday. He changed his ways and it paid off.
The St. Louis Blues forward scored the late game-tying goal and then the winner 1:58 into overtime for a 4-3 exhibition victory.
"I started shooting the puck a little bit more in the second, shooting more in the third and that translated in two goals so that's good," Perron said.
He tied the game with 33 seconds remaining in the third with goalie Ville Husso pulled for the extra attacker. Gabriel Bourque had given the Jets the 3-2 lead at the 16:59 mark of the period.
The game-winner came after Perron spun around and took a shot that went off the post and past Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
WATCH | Perron scores OT winner
Klim Kostin and Joel Edmundson also scored for St. Louis. Kostin added two assists and Sammy Blais had three assists in the team's third straight road game (2-1-0).
Jake Allen was in net for two periods for the defending Stanley Cup champions, stopping 18-of-20 shots. Husso replaced him for the third and made 10-of-11 saves.
Ehlers has multi-point game
Nikolaj Ehlers had a goal and assist for Winnipeg in his first pre-season game. Adam Lowry also scored.
Hellebuyck, also playing his first exhibition game, made 15 saves for the Jets (1-1-1)
St. Louis only had four shots in the first period compared to Winnipeg's nine.
"In the second, I got a couple shots and I started feeling a lot better," Hellebuyck said. "All in all, I liked the way I felt and I liked a lot of things in my game, but I don't like losing. So I'm going to come back to the drawing board and get better."
Kostin opened the scoring at 5:32 of the first period.
Edmundson and Kostin then teamed up on a 2-on-1 for Edmundson's goal at 12:11 to make it 2-0.
"Klim made a nice pass to me and I was lucky enough to bury it," Edmundson said. "It's nice to have my parents here and they could see that."
His family is from Brandon, Man., about a two-hour drive from Winnipeg.
Ehlers did all the work for his goal.
After stripping the puck away from Blues defenceman Mitch Reinke at Winnipeg's blue line, Ehlers used his speed on a breakaway to beat Allen between the pads 38 seconds after Edmundson's goal.
Lowry tied it 2-2 at 6:53 of the second period when he tapped in the puck after an Ehlers' shot had hit the crossbar and came out against Allen's pad.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice wasn't too surprised about his team's play during the 6-on-5 late in the third or the 3-on-3 overtime.
"We've spent zero time on either of those (situations) and we won't for another three or four days," he said.
Winnipeg sat veterans such as Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Josh Morrissey.
St. Louis didn't play the likes of Vladimir Tarasenko or Brayden Schenn, but Conn Smythe and Selke Trophy winner Ryan O'Reilly skated with Perron and Zach Sanford.
Oilers dominate Flames
The penalty killers propelled the Edmonton Oilers to a 6-2 pre-season win over the Calgary Flames on Friday.
With the Flames leading 2-1 halfway through the second period, Calgary had the chance to take a stranglehold on a two-man advantage for nearly 90 seconds. But the Oilers penalty killers held the Flames to a couple of harmless shots from the perimeter, and the game changed shortly after.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tied the game with a short-handed goal, another momentum-shifting moment from the penalty kill, before Joakim Nygard scored the eventual winner before the second period expired.
"If you can get one on the kill, that's obviously a huge bonus," said Nugent-Hopkins. "We just had that 5-on-3 and come right back with a penalty kill. So it was definitely nice to get a nice bounce there. I was able to put it in and it was a good time to do it."
Flames coach Bill Peters said that even though hockey is a game of three periods, Friday was a game of two halves, with the major momentum swing halfway through the second.
"I think we executed much better early, and then we had trouble executing and then they spent a lot of time in our zone, and then they obviously got momentum off that short-handed goal," he said.
"We kind of backed off a little even before that, and not capitalizing on that two-man advantage obviously hurts," said Flames centre Sam Bennett, who scored the Flames' first marker of the night. "It's a big momentum swing and then they got a little boost and then they capitalized."
Sam Gagner has big game
Zack Kassian, Leon Draisaitl and Sam Gagner added insurance goals in the third.
Gagner finished with three points on the night, a pre-season statement night for the veteran centre.
"That's the way it has to be," he said. "We've got a chance to do something special, and the only way to do that is for everyone to accept their role, but keep trying to push to move up the lineup."
The Flames (2-1-1) swapped goalies halfway through the game. David Rittich stopped seven of eight shots. Jon Gillies, who has played 12 career NHL regular-season games with the Flames, surrendered five goals on 21 shots, two of them on the short side.
The Oilers (2-2-0) got on the board just 2:44 into the first period, as Alex Chiasson, who enjoyed a breakout season in 2018-19 with a 22-goal campaign, redirected a point shot from defenceman Adam Larsson.
But the Flames drew level at 7:01, on their first real chance of the game. Michael Stone's low shot rebounded off the pads of Oilers netminder Mikko Koskinen, with the puck going right onto the tape of Sam Bennett's stick. He had no trouble firing the puck home.
Ryan Lomberg gave the Flames the lead as he snapped home a perfect pass from Zac Rinaldo on a 2-on-1 break at the 13:30 mark.
But Gillies gave up a goal on the third shot he faced. Nugent-Hopkins' initial pass on a 2-on-1 break was broken up, and it looked like the play was over. But the puck hung around in the slot and Nugent-Hopkins swatted the puck over Gillies' shoulder.
Nygard was credited with the goal that gave the Oilers a 3-2 lead at 17:09 after a Gillies couldn't corral a short-side shot from Darnell Nurse.
Kassian scored on the power play at 4:26 of the third, with a seeing-eye shot that seemed to go right through the Flames' netminder, and Draisaitl scored at 10:10 in his first game of the pre-season.
Gagner's deflected goal added insult to injury with four seconds left.
Koskinen made 19 saves.