Knies scores short-handed as Leafs edge Canadiens

MONTREAL – Matthew Knies joined the Toronto Maple Leafs late last season and hasn’t missed a beat since.

The 20-year-old rookie scored a short-handed game-winning goal as the Maple Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 in NHL pre-season action Friday night.

Knies had one assist in three regular-season games and four points (one goal, three assists) in seven playoff games with the Maple Leafs last season after spending most of his year at the University of Minnesota.

“He’s just picked up where he’s left off from the playoffs,” said Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe. “He stepped out of college last season, hardest time of the year, and showed that he could not just play, but help and contribute.”

Defenceman Mikko Kokkonen also scored for Toronto (2-1-1). Forward Noah Gregor, who’s impressed so far in training camp on a professional tryout, pitched in with an assist.

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But it was Knies who looked like the best player on the ice with both teams resting their star players, particularly on the penalty kill, something Toronto used to gain momentum throughout the evening.

Toronto was 0-for-2 on the power play. Montreal went 0-for-6, receiving several “boos” from the Bell Centre crowd due to the lack of cohesion with the man advantage.

Keefe believes Knies has all the attributes to be a great special teams player.

“His speed and his length, his reach, tenacity, his ability to get a stick on pucks and win loose puck battles is really, really good,” said Keefe. “We think those are strong assets to have as a penalty killer.

“Some of the reads (assistant coach Dean Chynoweth) had to work with him on and will continue to have to do that, but it’s been really positive.”

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The Maple Leafs coach did, however, acknowledge that the entire Canadiens top power-play unit wasn’t in action.

“It helps that Montreal’s power play was probably sitting on the couch tonight,” he said.

Starter Ilya Samsonov made 17 saves in two periods without allowing a goal before giving way to backup Keith Petruzzelli, who made six stops.

Josh Anderson scored the lone goal for Montreal (1-2-0). Canadiens netminder Cayden Primeau, who appears to be third in the organizational depth chart behind Samuel Montembeault and Jake Allen, played the entire game and made 27 saves.

All three goalies have one-way contracts, meaning Primeau could find himself on waivers before the regular season begins.

Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis said “some decisions have to be made” but liked Primeau’s performance.

“We want to give him an opportunity, you want to see him play as best as he can, you want to see him fight,” said St. Louis. “He made some big saves to keep us in the game. You want to see pretty much what he did tonight, we didn’t give him any run support.”

Tanner Pearson played alongside Brendan Gallagher and Jake Evans in his pre-season debut for the Canadiens. Montreal acquired the 31-year-old winger and a third-round pick from the Vancouver Canucks on Sept. 19 for goaltender Casey DeSmith.

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Pearson, who had one goal and four assists in 14 games last season after missing most of the campaign with a broken hand that needed multiple surgeries, had three shots on goal and two hits.

“You can see he’s been in a league a long time, he’s a pro the way he plays, he follows instruction, very detailed, his speed, he plays hard,” said St. Louis. “Everything out there is as advertised.”

Knies broke the deadlock short-handed at 10:23 of the second period, scoring with a wrist shot from the slot after a feed from Fraser Minten, who stripped defenceman Justin Barron in his own end.

Montreal then countered with chance after chance, one coming from John Parker-Jones. The six-foot-seven, 230-pound forward was all over the ice for the Canadiens.

Kokkonen doubled Toronto’s lead later in the frame.

In the third period, Knies and Minten connected once again for a Grade A chance on the penalty kill, but couldn’t beat Primeau.

“I want to play everywhere,” said Knies. “I want to be a contributor to all parts of the game so I think that’s what hockey demands is a player that can play in all three zones in every situation. So I want to be that type of player.”

Anderson got Montreal on the scoresheet with just over five minutes left, hammering a pass from Sean Monahan into the top left corner.

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Montreal had a power play with a minute remaining after Toronto’s Timothy Liljegren sent the puck over the glass. Despite sustaining pressure with the goalie pulled and a Gallagher chance on the doorstep, the Canadiens couldn’t net the equalizer.


The two teams play again in Montreal on Saturday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2023.

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