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Leafs Rookie Recap: Leafs 4, Habs 3

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The Leafs were easily the better team, but they took longer than I'd hoped to show it.

Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

The Recap

The first period began with chances at both ends, but it was the Habs that struck first with a quick one-timer by Daniel Audette that eluded Leafs' goalie Antoine Bibeau. London Knight Victor Mete sent Will Bitten up ice, who kept enough distance between himself and Keaton Middleton to find Audette gliding unchecked through the zone towards the net.

The Leafs got the first power play of the game in the first, and Mitch Marner looked fantastic on the half wall, getting and setting up several chances, but just missing on each.

Keaton Middleton wouldn't have been anyone's first guess to tie the game, but that's exactly what he did at 17:07 of the first, as he took a quick wrister from the blue line. Martins Dzierkals and Nikita Korostelev picked up the assists. The goal was a softie, but hey, I'll give him credit for picking his spot and hitting it.

In the final minute of the first period, it appeared that Montreal was going to have a clean breakaway, but Marner realized what was about to happen before it did, and raced back to prevent a shot from getting to the net.

After one, the shots were six apiece.

Just two minutes into the second period, Montreal propsect Jérémy Grégoire took a minor for elbowing and sent the Leafs' power play to work. Marner was again great on the half-wall and the Leafs had a couple of great opportunities that they couldn't put home.

The Leafs began to take over the period from there. The Gauthier line was great, the Marner line was great, and so was Dzierkals'. The shots weren't indicative of how much the Leafs were outplaying the Habs.

It was Tony Cameranesi who put the Leafs ahead when he streaked down his off-wing, and snapped a shot on goal. He picked up his own rebound and put it home, just like the Leafs did in practice earlier this morning. Assists went to Korostelev and Dzierkals.

Just minutes later, Tobias Lindberg made it 3-1 after a good pinch by Justin Holl knocked the puck off the stick of a Montreal forward trying to break out of the zone. Lindberg collected the puck and took a step into the middle of the ice before putting a wrister home.

The Leafs' dominant period left the shots at 25-14.

The Brooks, Johnsson, and Bracco line got a few chances to start the third period off. They're all on the smaller side, but they can all skate and pass so well that Johnsson wound up with a point-blank chance very quickly.

At 13:34, just 4 seconds into a Lindberg interference penalty, the Habs' Mete took a long wrist shot that was tipped by Artturi Lehkonen in front of Bibeau and Montreal got back to within a goal.

Lehkonen was utterly quiet in the game until the tip, as the Leafs had done a good job of taking away his time and space.

After the goal, the Canadiens began to press harder for the equalizer, and they forced Andrew Nielsen to take a slashing penalty as they pressed. On the ensuing penalty kill, the Leafs made a rushed change, and Travis Dermott let Michael McCarron go to the net unchallenged, and McCarron went laterally through the crease and tucked home a backhander at 7:47.

Dermott followed up the mistake with another, taking a tripping penalty almost immediately after the Leafs returned to 5-on-5. Some good work by Brooks and Dzierkals actually gave Toronto a couple chances while shorthanded, and the Leafs killed it off.

Montreal appeared to have all the momentum but the Leafs fought back. It was Andrew Nielsen who got the go-ahead goal with 1:36 left, after he walked in off the blue line, stepping around a couple Habs on his way to firing a shot straight through Fucale, who looked weak on the goal.

The Habs pulled the goalie but were held off by a Dermott-Nielsen pairing that limited any real chances against.

Leafs win 4-3 and out-shoot the Habs 36-23.

Player Notes

Keaton Middtleton: His passing is not great. His skating is ugly, but he definitely isn't slow, either. If he's out of position, he can get back surprisingly well. That being said, he can't turn worth a darn. He just plain fell down and lost his check on tight turns -€” several times. He scored a goal from the point on a surprisingly whippy little wrist shot that beat Fucale upstairs. It was a muffin, but hey, it was a goal.

Andreas Johnsson: He's short, but physically mature -€” strong. He's not afraid to lean on a defender on his way towards the net. He covered for pinching defencemen adroitly on several occasions.

Justin Holl: A couple problems handling the puck while in reverse. He jumped into the play effectively on a few occasions, including a forecheck that lead directly to Lindberg's goal.

Martins Dzierkals: Good speed down low -€” stops/starts make him hard to check. He also used his speed well down the wing, and showed flashes of great stickhandling to get into good position. He also laid about 5 good hits on the forecheck.

Andrew Nielsen: Showed some decent hands on the OZ stickhandling around a stationary Hab.

Mitchell Marner: That playmaking was on full display early as he made several sweet passes in the OZ, and one good long-bomb pass out of the DZ. He looked great on the half-wall on the power play, and if his linemates could keep up with the way he thinks the game, the Leafs would have had the lead by the end of the first.

Frederik Gauthier: He is a very smart player. His defensive zone awareness is awesome, and he even sees the ice very well to set up plays. He just doesn't have the skating or skill to actually be effective. He could still prove me wrong, but I'll be surprised if he's an effective bottom-six player. Maybe he'll be good at suppressing shots, but my sense of him is that he'll lack at the other end so much that he'll always be a negative possession player on balance.

Travis Dermott: He's gotten stronger. He bodied a couple guys off the puck early in open ice. He was also quite eager in this game to jump into the rush and go deep into the OZ -€” much more so than when I watched his Erie Otters take on the Knights during the OHL playoffs last season. He got caught pinching once, but really, there should have been a winger falling back to cover him.

Jeremy Bracco: He's quick and nimble, and shifty. He was cut seriously enough for him to miss a bunch of time in this game, and I'm keen to see more of him.

Adam Brooks: He got a decent amount of time on the PK and didn't look out of place. He also passes very well with Bracco, and looks like he belongs.