It wasn't the prettiest of wins, but then, rookie tournament games never are, anyway. The players at these events are often less than familiar with one another and so team systems generally don't work as smoothly as they do later in the year. These games are, however, a nice chance to get a look at players who have developed outside of North America, and help us get a feel for the players' size, strength, speed, and perhaps a bit of raw skill.
Paul Hendrick has you covered for lineup information basics over at the Leafs' official site, but a few other things warrant comment. First, I was rather hoping that William Nylander would line up at centre to show what he could do there, but at least he was on the top line. It was also great to see as much of Viktor Loov and Tom Nilsson, especially playing together.
The first PK unit looked like this:
Frederik Gauthier - Josh Leivo
The second PK unit changed frequently, but typically saw Knodl and Fraser play together with the Rupert twins getting plenty of time. Nylander was used on the last shift of almost every power play, and he created more than one good chance for himself, forcing turnovers by Hawk defenders at the Leafs' blue line.
Naturally, Nylander's line saw top power play time through the game, with the Gauthier unit getting in some time as well. Loov and Nilsson ware the go-to men on the point, from whence Nilsson almost removed the heads of a couple Hawks' players. He doesn't mind shooting high at all and he can crank it. A graduate of the Dion Phaneuf School For Arm Breaking?
One last note on the roster, this time Chicago's: James van Riemsdyk's little brother suited up for the Hawks, and JvR came to town to take in the game along with the Leafs' entire front office who was present.
The Leafs got themselves into penalty trouble repeatedly in the first period and wound up falling behind on the shot clock quickly. The Bash Brothers line consisting of Matt Rupert, his twin Ryan Rupert, and friend of the blog Tyler Biggs playing -- you guessed it -- feisty chip'n chase hockey managed to pick up a few penalties throughout the game, starting with a high sticking call to Matt Rupert at 8:55 of the first. The team killed it off, even Garret Sparks had to be acrobatic on more than one occasion. I glanced up at the shot count with 7:35 to go in the first and the Leafs were being out-shot 11-2.
Really, the team wasn't playing so badly. Gauthier looked good down low, Matt Finn jumped into the rush often, and read plays heading into the OZ well. Nylander created rush after rush catching lots of stretch passes and even getting a clean breakaway, which he totally flubbed. Oh well.
It was the Bash Brothers' unit who cashed in first, after a Knodl shot came off the goalie and Ryan Rupert cashed in. Rupert had done well to get open and arrive at the net with momentum, leaving the Hawks' goalie totally helpless.
Before the period was over, David Broll (perhaps charged with "making space" for Nylander) took a stupid penalty for elbowing, but the PK was again solid.
Eric Knodl is 6'6'' but has yet to fill out. He doesn't a flashy game in the least, but he was effective on the penalty kill when Matt Rupert took his second penalty of the game just 1:55 into the second period. More time in the zone.
For all Matt Finn's offensive instincts, his defensive play tonight was poor. While defending in the zone, an attacker curled around sharply with the puck, threw Finn off his track completely, and skated completely unmolested laterally through the crease to tie the game at 1-1. This wasn't the first of Finn's defensive miscues on the evening, and it wouldn't be the last.
Fortunately, the Leafs' forwards kept turning the heat up on the Hawks, with Carter Verhaeghe and Josh Leivo teaming up on some dangerous-looking 2-on-1's, and Nylander creating dangerous rushes every time he touched the puck. He drew a penalty on a near breakaway chance, but Broll took another penalty to nullify it. However briefly the team was on the power play, they looked good. Loov actually had a slick drop pass play to Nylander on one or two occasions to gain the OZ that I have to wonder if they learned while playing together in Sweden.
Matt Finn put the Leafs up 2-1 on a very nice goal. Lee Findlay picked off a Chicago rush coming out of their DZ, and he very patiently waited for one, two, and then three Hawk defenders to slid out of position before finding Finn streaking towards the net. Things went south later in the period for Finn, as he got puck watching, and then got absolutely danced by a Chicago player who slid the puck through Finn's legs on his way to the net. Finn needs to add more muscle and be sharper with getting inside positioning in his own end, but there's plenty of time for him to grow, and I don't want to put too much weight on one bad game.
The Leafs went up 3-2 on a goal from Josh Leivo as he picked up a rebound behind all the Hawks defenders. It was a quick play from Gauthier to Donaghey for the shot, which left the D with little time to react.
The Bash Brother line continued to stir things up with a little extra-curricular activity, though no fights every broke out. It's certainly fair to say that this line was a nuisance. They know their role. Or at least, they do for the most part. At one point, Biggs went one-on-one with a defender and tried a through-the-legs deke which just ended with him losing the puck and the chance altogether.
The puck seemed to follow William Nylander around all night, as he had chance after chance, but it certainly wasn't just coincidence. Nylander's passing looks great, and any talk of him being 'selfish' appears to be unfounded. In fact, he finally picked up a point after a redirected pass found Broll, who whipped a shot over the shoulder of the Hawks' netminder, who had gone down too early.
The Leafs would actually have made it 5-2 were it not for a good goal being waived for supposedly being tipped above the crossbar. Knodl sent a high wrister towards the goal and Parker Bowles got enough of it to bring it down through the five hole of the Hawks' netminder. A replay was shown to the crowd just moments later and the refs received an appropriate amount of booing.
To keep things interesting, Garret Sparks took a tripping penalty with 30 seconds left in the game, leaving his team shorthanded with the Hawks worked away with the goalie pulled. Fortunately, Knodl, Donaghey, Leivo, and Gauthier did more good work and iced this one for the good guys.