Matt Murray had a solid night on the ice and a conversation off it he won’t soon forget.
A couple of his teammates, meanwhile, demonstrated untapped skills that were needed in a pinch.
Murray was perfect in making 16 saves over two periods of action in his Maple Leafs debut as short-handed Toronto defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 in pre-season play Wednesday.
Denis Malgin, with a goal and an assist, Nick Robertson and Nick Abruzzese scored for the Leafs, who lost defencemen Jordie Benn and Carl Dahlstrom to injury in the first period, forcing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into action on the blue line most of the night.
“Two selfless players,” Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said of the two players that had never played defence at any level. “They’re here to serve the team and do what they can to help. They didn’t hesitate at all when I told them I needed them to play defence.
“Did an incredible job.”
Canada’s 1972 Summit Series team was honoured before the opening faceoff and throughout the evening on the 50th anniversary of Paul Henderson’s dramatic winner with 34 seconds left in Game 8 against the Soviet Union.
“It was cool,” Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly said. “That’s an important point in hockey history.”
Teammates joining Henderson on the Scotiabank Arena ice as both the Leafs and Canadiens looked on from their respective blue lines sporting ceremonial throwback Canadian jerseys included Serge Savard, Ken Dryden, Yvan Cournoyer, Frank Mahovlich, Peter Mahovlich and Ron Ellis.
Murray had a brief chat with Dryden, the Hall of Fame goaltender, following the game.
“A real honour,” said one of Toronto’s two new netminders. “I’m thankful for that.”
Erik Kallgren made 11 saves in the third for Toronto after replacing Murray. Sam Montembeault allowed one goal on 15 shots in 31 minutes of work for Montreal. Kevin Poulin made 12 saves the rest of the way.
“We’re throwing different concepts (out) every game,” Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis said of the peach-fuzzed lineup he dressed against Toronto. “It’s a lot for new guys to grasp, young guys to grasp. We’re trying not to overwhelm them, coach them along the way.
“If you expect immediate understanding and execution, you don’t understand what teaching is.”
Jarnkrok, who signed a four-year contract with the Leafs in free agency, scored twice in his Toronto debut Saturday, but was moved back to defence alongside Rielly after Benn (groin) and Dahlstrom (shoulder) exited.
Kerfoot, meanwhile, was paired with T.J. Brodie. Mark Giordano and Victor Mete represented the club’s only blue-line combination where both players were in their natural positions.
“There’s elements [where] I’m sure I was lost” Kerfoot said. “Just trying to do your best out there, not skate backwards as much as you can.”
Keefe said the team would provide an update Thursday, but both Benn and Dahlstrom are expected to miss time.
“Kerf and Calle did a great job,” Rielly said before deadpanning: “They made it look a little too easy, made us (regular defencemen) look bad a little bit.”
Injuries are starting to pile up for the Leafs with the exhibition schedule not even at its halfway point.
Toronto captain John Tavares is out at least three weeks with an oblique strain and defenceman Jake Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, while winger Pierre Engvall (foot/ankle) and blue-liner Timothy Liljegren (hernia) are also on the shelf.
“It sucks to see it happening as frequent as it’s been here,” Keefe said of his sickbay. “Not a good thing, but it happens.
“It’s part of the game.”
Toronto’s top line of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Michael Bunting got the night off Wednesday.
Juraj Slafkovsky, the No. 1 pick at July’s NHL draft, got a muted first taste of the Original Six rivalry, but Montreal was minus captain Nick Suzuki (lower-body injury) and Josh Anderson (upper-body injury). Cole Caufield and Brendan Gallagher didn’t make the trip.
Robertson – a promising player Toronto would love to see move into a top-6 forward role – put the Leafs ahead 1-0 six minutes into the first when he moved down the left side with speed and snapped a shot through Montembeault’s pads.
Acquired in a July trade with the Ottawa Senators as Toronto revamped its goaltending, Murray had a tidy first period and picked up the second assist on Robertson’s opener.
A two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Thunder Bay, Ont., native spent a mostly miserable two seasons in the nation’s capital before getting another fresh start in Toronto.
“I wanted to make the most out of tonight,” Murray said. “Get my feet wet a little bit. It’s been a while since I played in a real game.”
He continued the strong performance in the middle period before Malgin scored his second of the pre-season with 45 seconds left before the intermission on a power play.
Murray’s 16 saves matched the 16 stops Ilya Samsonov, Toronto’s other summer goaltending addition, made in his 40 minutes of work Saturday.
Abruzzese rounded out the scoring on another man advantage with less than four minutes left in regulation against the Canadiens.
“It’s early, they’ve only played 40 minutes,” Keefe said of his netminders. “But they can only deal with what comes their way they’ve answered all the questions that have come their way so far.
“It was another good showing from the goaltending department.”