Mike Babcock praises Gauthier and confuses with Spezza comments after preseason loss to Senators

Justin Cuthbert

We’ll have Points after every game throughout the Toronto Maple Leafs season. You’d really hate to miss out on Points. Especially when we one day inevitably go full Darryl Sittler.

The Toronto Maple Leafs failed to bring an in-season effort to their only exhibition game in Newfoundland, losing 3-1 to the Ottawa Senators at Mile One Arena in St. John’s.

Here are those points:

Point 1: ‘I like Goat’

Jeremy Bracco, Jordan Schmaltz, Justin Holl, Egor Korshkov, Martin Marincin, Kevin Gravel, Trevor Moore, Jason Spezza. Far more included in Mike Babcock’s first preseason lineup of the 2019-20 exhibition slate could have used a standout performance on “The Rock” as opposed to the ones that should feel comfortable with their standing in the team.

Yet, just one belonging to Babcock’s bubble really seized the opportunity to strengthen their case on opening night, as most seemed to contribute in their own largely unproductive way to the mediocre offering for fans on Tuesday night.

Frederik Gauthier was responsible for more individual scoring chances than any other Leafs forward and really should have had a few goals despite playing lower in the lineup than most.

Further to that, he was first off the boards to kill penalties, teaming with Mitch Marner.

It left Babcock impressed.

“I like Goat. I thought Goat was strong. I thought he broke play. I thought he was good without it (the puck) and good with it. I thought he was a factor for us for sure.”

This isn’t insignificant. While Gauthier held down the fourth-line centre role last season, it seems he will have to wrestle it back with a strong performance over the next two weeks with Spezza pencilled into that role upon signing what essentially amounts to a veteran-minimum deal in the offseason.

With the opportunities Gauthier didn’t have, Spezza looked like one of the better Leafs tonight as well — even if Babcock didn’t quite see it that way.

But more on that later.

(Kishan Mistry/Yahoo Sports Canada)
(Kishan Mistry/Yahoo Sports Canada)

Point 2: Wasted Money

Now I’m not saying Newfoundlanders shouldn’t have paid upwards of $600 a pop to watch a preseason game, but I am saying that Jimmy Buffett was playing a show at the same time five minutes up the road.

(Seriously though, the fans in Newfoundland were unbelievable this week. They deserved better tonight. And probably a lineup with Auston Matthews in it).

Point 3: Kapanen isn’t Hyman, and that’s OK

If he was graded entirely on his best Zach Hyman impression, the task of switching from right wing to left to do the “dirty work” for John Tavares and Mitch Marner on the Maple Leafs’ second line would be a far more difficult one for Kasperi Kapanen.

Thankfully for him, and until Hyman’s ACL is fully repaired, he can service the two star forwards in other ways.

However, just how he will do that wasn’t all that obvious through two periods versus Ottawa. The three didn’t seem to start to click until a few shifts into the third, where Kapanen was the beneficiary of a dynamic sequence from Marner and scored Toronto’s only goal.

It was that typical Hyman-style heaviness and doggedness on the forecheck that created the offensive zone possession for Marner to take advantage of with a pass from behind the net to the cutting Kapanen.

Only it was Mason Marchment that did the heavy lifting at the end of a shift, not Kapanen. Something to watch.

Point 4: Nothing will be promised

Though it is a routinely-visited tactic from the veteran coach, the first preseason game seems a bit early to start sending messages to veteran players through the media.

But it was even before the loss to the Senators that Babcock was aiming to temper all the love Spezza was receiving through the first few days of training camp.

The Leafs coach continued to drive home the message that nothing will be handed to the veteran forward, despite his fine performance and overall readiness to embrace a diminished role.

Babcock said, “(Spezza) is trying to figure out if he’s interested, and we’re doing the same.”

When asked to elaborate:

“He’s never had a role (like this). We’re going to have him penalty killing, taking face-offs, playing on the fourth line. It’s not what you’re used to. It’s a totally different thing. So we’re just going to keep plugging away and see where it goes.”

All indications are that Spezza is fully aware of his limitations and wants to play a specialized role for a title contender, so it makes Babcock’s comments particularly interesting.

In terms of juicy storylines that have emerged from the first official week of activity for the Maple Leafs, Spezza’s place on the team and his relationship with Babcock is it.

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