Rookie tournaments are always a funny thing: players are out of sync since most haven't played together before, there is a wide gap in talent on display, and this time around at least, there were some new rules being put in place. If this game was a bit of a wild affair, it should come as no surprise. The goal at these events is always more to get a handle on skill levels, size, and speed of players rather than to define how they play more generally.
The first period began with William Nylander centring Nikita Soshnikov and Martins Dzierkals, and Rinat Valiev and Matt Finn starting on D. It was good to see Nylander playing centre and interesting to see Valiev and Finn get so much ice time throughout the game.
The Sens scored early in the first, ripping home a shot off the faceoff dot when Kasperi Kapanen couldn't quite prevent his man from getting to the puck first. The Leafs' goalie, Lucas Peressini, an undrafted 20 year old from the Kingston Frontenacs, looked a bit shaky on the first goal, though it is worth noting that he is a camp invitee on an amateur tryout contract.
The Leafs' penalty kill looked good, given that a wide range of players were used, though again, I should stress that systems are usually a bit of a mess at these events. Nylander was used several times, and looked good breaking up plays. Kapanen was also used alongside Mitch Marner to pose an offensive threat on the penalty kill, and they looked quite good out there, together. In fact, Marner wound up laying down to block a shot on a very good chance that would have made Don Cherry proud. All in all, they shut down the Sens' first period power plays relatively easily.
One thing that stood out in the early goings was that the Sens have a much bigger team than the Leafs. The Baby Buds were indeed pushed around a lot to start the game, but over the course of the later periods, the Leafs' skill took over, and the tide began to turn more in their favour. I won't go so far as to make conclusions about the Sens' drafting philosophy, but with the slick hands of Nylander, Marner, Soshnikov, Dmytro Timashov, and even Nikita Korostelev, it seemed like a braun vs. skill competition.
In the later minutes of the period, Nylander drew a slashing penalty (and was seen icing his hand after the game), but the team cashed in to tie the game with their second power play unit consisting of Soshnikov (goal), Dzierkals (assist 1), and Timashov (assist 2).
The first period wrapped up with the shots 12-10 in favour of the Sens.
In the second period, the Baby Leafs' skill started to really show. Nylander's passing looked great, and Travis Dermott impressed with his breakout passes and work on the power play. Kapanen broke away early in the period and had his shot glance off the goalie's glove, the post, and then go out of play.
Inevitably, there had to be a fight. It is one way to get attention, after all. Andrew Nielsen wound up in a scrap after Kapanen's breakaway, but the Sens wound up with an extra two minutes. By the end of that power play, the Leafs had managed to reverse the lead in shots to 19-15.
Ottawa would take another penalty with 3:57 left in the 2nd period for high sticking Travis Dermott (who had a nice shiner at the end of the game), and this time, the power play that had only looked good managed to cash in. The top unit of Marner-Nylander-Korostelev had Dermott and Kapanen on the point and controlled play very well - in fact, the Sens never managed to clear it. Nylander cashed in on a nice wrist shot in the first half of the penalty.
Unfortunately, with only 0:53 left in the second period, Ottawa tied the game at two when Finn missed tying up a trailing player heading to the net on the rush. At the end of two, the score was tied, but the Leafs had out-shot the Sens 27-21.
In the third, Nylander and Timashov teamed up for the 3-2 goal. The puck only dribbled over the line as Nylander crashed the net, and although initially it was credited to Timashov who took the shot, it was changed later to Nylander.
Dzierkals took a penalty with 10:59 left in the third, and it only took the Sens 16 seconds of power play time to score. Kapanen and TJ Foster, another camp invite, were on the ice at the time. It was a nice one timer that beat Peressini, but you would like to see players prevent passes through the middle of the ice like that. Again, this is a short tournament, and systems are always a mess.
Then with 2:47 left in the third, Ottawa took a terrible cross-checking penalty right in front of the ref, and Nylander slid the puck to Dermott who hammered home a goal from the point on the ensuing power play. Kapanen also picked up an assist on the play.
With less than a minute left, the Sens managed to tie the game on an absolute pinball of a goal that tipped off a stick, the goalie, and then a Leafs defender before finally going in. This sent the game to the new 3-on-3 overtime that the league is implementing this year.
The shot total at this point? 44-33 for the Leafs.
The game ended on a sour note with the Sens scoring on a long-distance wrist shot that Peressini probably should have had, but in 3-on-3, the whole thing is a track meet, so the win or loss is probably always going to come down to a coin flip.
A few notes on specific players:
- Travis Dermott impressed me, which was nice, because I had some reservations about the Leafs drafting him at the position they did with several very talented players still on the board. He makes good first passes on breakouts, and seemed to be able to diffuse dangerous situations with a poke check (good gap control) or a pass.
- Kasperi Kapanen looked very strong. He is unlikely to ever have the totals of Nylander or Marner, but his stick handling, skating (particularly his top speed), and playmaking stood out a lot in this game.
- Soshnikov looked great. He carried the puck all over the ice, went to the net, and has pretty good hands. He's certainly not afraid to shoot the puck.
- Matt Finn looks big out there with the prospects. He's a strong player who I hope will rebound next year with the Marlies. Certainly, he was looked to as a leader among this group of prospects, both in terms of being a top D pairing, but also making responsible plays covering for his partner.
- Speaking of covering for a pinch, Korostelev did so on a couple of occasions and prevented odd men rushes.
- Valiev looks good. He makes smart decisions with the puck in his own end and also will join the rush on occasion to create some dangerous chances.
Here is some audio from the post-game scrum: