For this one, the Leafs dressed very few of their veterans and instead let a lot of youngsters have a crack at solving Carey Price... And later, Zach Fucale, but hey. The league has a rule that teams have to dresss a minimum of 8 players who are vets/1st round picks, and this seemed like something close the minimum.
In the first period, the Leafs had some good chances on the power play, but wound up being out-chanced at even strength. The Habs took a 1-0 lead with the line of Nikita Soshnikov, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner running around in its own end, after a puck bounced into the slot and there was no one to pick up Habs' prospect Michael McCarron.
The Soshnikov-Nylander-Marner line had an up-and-down period. At 5-on-5, they were often hemmed in their own zone, but then, Marner did draw a penalty, and the group came very close to scoring on the power play on at least 3 plays in the opening frame alone. By the second period, Soshnikov had been removed from this line.
Dmytro Timashov continued to impress early, getting a good look or two on the power play, but also making clever plays in his own zone to distribute the puck to less dangerous areas. I have said this so many times already, but I'm far from finsihed: I can't believe the Leafs got Timashov in the 5th round. He obviously needs to get stronger, but I like what I have seen from him so far.
Despite the goal against, Leafs' goalie Antoine Bibeau looked solid through the first frame of the game. He didn't offer up much in the way of rebounds and was in good position to make plays look simple.
The shots on goal were 10-9 in favour of the Habs at the end of one period.
In the second, scoring chances were fewer and farther between as defence tightened up for both teams. Well, at least most of the players tightened up their D. Mark Fraser showed why so many of us here at PPP wanted to see him leave Toronto. He got absolutely danced by Zack Kassian (yes, really), got beat to the puck all over the ice, made poor outlet passes, and wound up bailed out by 18 year-old Travis Dermott on a couple of occasions. Here's hoping that this is the extent of his tenure with the Leafs.
Halfway through the second, Garret Sparks came into the game on a scheduled change for Bibeau, who played well through 30 minutes.
In fact, the only very good scoring chance of the second period came at 19:31, when Nylander picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone on a Montréal giveaway and went in 2-on-1 with Jake Gardiner. Nylander fired a great no-look pass to Gardiner who returned the favour with Nylander going to the net for a tap-in. As draglikepull put it on Twitter, "Nylander from Gardiner and Marner? I could get used to that."
Nylander actually showed off some of his newly-acquired strength by going to the net and causing problems for the Habs in the blue paint on several occasions.
Really, there is no way that Nylander is not already one of the Leafs' best centremen. I hope that he winds up in the AHL and I do think that he will, but I think that it's becoming increasingly difficult to argue that he isn't good enough for the big show.
One of the things the Leafs had going for them last night was more of Mike Babcock's trademarked shot passes in the defensive zone. Often, the pattern goes something like this: one to get out of danger, two to get an attack started, and three to send the rush into full flight. Tonight, fans saw a lot less of that defensive zone calm and, dare I say it, poise. There was a lot more off-the-glass-and-out, and not all of that could be pinned on Fraser.
The Canadiens started the third period strong, controlling play, and testing Garret Sparks early on. But the Leafs played tight enough defensively that there weren't too many dangerous chances. Overall, it was a rather uneventful period that saw no scoring.
One thing that has become abundantly clear is that Babcock obviously wants to use 4 forwards on the power play all the time, as this is what the Leafs have done in each preseason game as well as the rookie tournament. The first unit generally saw Gardiner being used, but Travis Dermott looked good anchoring the second unit.
Jake Gardiner was a real standout for the Leafs in this one for tonight. His skating, passing, quick decisions in his own zone, and ability to carry the puck out of danger. To put an exclamation point on his evening, he scored the winning goal in Ot on the power play on a nice feed from Brad Boyes.
All told, this was not a decent showing for many of the Leafs' younger players and although they didn't control the play as much as I may have liked, they did pull off the win. I'll take it.
A few other notes on individual players:
- Gauthier was fine in his own end but totally anemic in the offensive zone. Surprised?
- Boyes was fair-to-good at both ends. He made some good defensive plays breaking up passes but also contributed to the Leafs' second power play unit, and, as previously mentioned, made a beauty of a pass on the winning goal.
- Andrew Nielsen has a very strange skating style. His arms work back and forth in a strange way, and he looked a little more out of his element in this game than in any of the rookie games or the previous preseason tilt.
- Soshnikov had a few good looks at the net. A good game for him. he isn't afraid to grind it out down low in his own zone, either. He covered well for defenders on a few occasions, tying up opponents going to the net.
- Mitch Marner made several good plays and hung on to the puck rather well, though it was clear that he is still shaking off jitters. He certainly likes to control play more while playing with the Knights, but it's no shock to anyone that he will need to adjust to quicker decisions with the puck in order to be as effective at the NHL level.
- Leo Komarov was relied upon to kill penalties as a part of the first unit and later in the game found himself on a line with Nylander and Marner. He looked good in this one.
- Marner looked passive early on and remained timid for most of the game, despite a couple good defensive plays and some nice passes into the slot from behind the net.
- Timashov and Sparks looked good for the second straight night. Sparks came in in relief for the second consecutive game and stopped everything he faced. He's not overcommitting on shots, which is a good sign. Timashov continues to be patient with the puck and not outmatched physically despite being slender. He does an excellent job managing the PP from the half-wall.
- Gardiner had two glaring turnovers in the first period but settled in as one of the Leafs best players.
- Nylander's play faded at times but made some nice plays on the puck and finished off a nifty give-and-go with Gardiner.
- Dermott stood out all night and made a number of really intelligent, quick plays in tight with the puck to move it up-ice. The Leafs pushed the tempo and Dermott helped lead the charge. Both he and Harrington were physically engaged.
- Mark Fraser and Nikita Soshnikov both struggled in the defensive zone throughout the game. Soshnikov was beat along the boards on a couple of players where he should have been able to come out of the exchange with the puck. Fraser looked laboured.