The Leafs dressed less skill for their game against the Penguins than against either Ottawa or Montreal, and really, you couldn't blame them.
The Pens have the weakest rookie roster at the tournament, and arguably the most physical too. Since most of the Leafs' higher profile offensive talents had already played two games, they were rested. Mitch Marner, Rinat Valiev, Frederik Gauthier, Tobias Lindberg, Colin Smith, Adam Brooks, and Trevor Moore were all scratched, among others.
The first period was the poorest showing for the Leafs yet at this tournament. Although they controlled a good amount of the play, defensive lapses and a whiff by Kaskisuo had the Leafs down by two goals before the game was 10 minutes old.
4:41 into the game Milos Bubela slapped one home from the point past the Leafs' netminder, who was beaten clealy. Teddy Blueger picked up the lone assist.
Next, it was Keaton Middleton who made a bad challenge at the offensive zone blue line, giving up a 2-on-1. The Michael Webster shot was from far enough out that Kaskisuo could have had it, but the Pens went up 2-0 just 9:45 into the frame. Jean-Sebastien Dea earned an assist on the play.
Late in the period Andreas Johnsson raced for a puck deep in the Pens' zone. As he got close to the puck he took the legs out from under the Pens' player who crashed heaving into the boards. Johnsson was jumped by no less than 3 Pens all at once, and it was several minutes before the refs could restore order. In the end, Johnsson had the extra penalty.
On the penalty kill, JJ Piccinich received a somewhat soft penalty for slashing, as the Penguin's stick snapped in half rather easily. The Leafs killed off the 5-on-3 but had to finish killing Piccinich's minor off in the second period.
Shots after 20 minutes were 11-10 Leafs.
Although the Leafs killed off Piccinich's penalty, Andrew Nielsen took another dumb one right after and with Middleton paired with Jon Jutzi on the back end (a dangerous gamble if there ever was one), the Pens scored again.
With the game at 3-0, things appeared to be slipping away from the Leafs until Nikita Korostelev raced up the ice with the puck and Mason Marchment picked up a lucky bounce and stuffed it home. The Leafs were on the board.
Next, it was Jeremy Bracco who finally made his presence felt, finishing off a one-timer that Nielsen whiffed on in the slot. Cameranesi got the other assist and all of a sudden, the Leafs were within one.
With a bit of momentum from scoring two goals in two minutes, the Leafs began buzzing. Korostelev picked up the puck in the slot and made a deft step to the right before tucking the puck in past DeSmith to tie the game.
The Leafs' first fight of the tournament occurred after Mason Marchment was decked by London Knight CJ Yakimowicz. Marchment stood right back up and dropped Yakimowicz, who challenged him to a fight after he, in turn, got up. Marchment got the extra minor.
Things cooled off a little until with less than 10 seconds left in the period, Nielsen had a point shot blocked by Josh Archibald, who raced in alone on Kaskisuo and hit the crossbar.
Shots after two were 26-24 Pens.
With 8:03 left in regulation, and two Penguins in the box, it was Nielsen who finally put the Leafs ahead, drifting in from the blue line and wristing a shot into the top corner. One of the Penguins' defenders had broken his stick, leaving little hope for Pittsburgh.
Then, on the remaining 5-on-4, Korostelev finished off a nice passing play and tapped it into an open net to put the Leafs ahead 5-3. Things looked good.
The Penguins weren't finished, though.
They scored two quick goals, with Dominik Simon snapping a shot in off the post wihle Travis Dermott sat once again in the penalty box for slashing.
Although both teams had chances afterwards, this game required overtime.
The Leafs had the puck for almost the entirety of the OT period. Finally, Nielsen sent an absolutely perfect pass up the middle to Bracco, who danced in alone and finished the tournament for the Leafs with a win.
Shots at the end of the game were 36-33 Leafs.
Notes on individual players:
Keaton Middleton: Yikes. He got exposed all over. I can't believe how much he played - both at even strength and on special teams. Paired with Dermott, he got caught trying to hold the OZ blue line, and gave up a 2-on-1 he had no hope of catching up with. He missed the broad side of a barn on a good chance at the other end, too.
Travis Dermott: He did not look as good in this one. He was taken off the pairing with Nielsen, and paired with Middleton, which didn't help, but he made mistakes all his own. He let forwards get behind him without noticing, he let forwards push by him while defending the rush, and he made a few bad passes.
Kasimir Kaskisuo: He needs to limit his lateral movement. He's out of position far too often. He also struggles tracking the puck in traffic, which forces him to play deep in his net. All this being said, he was hung out to dry by the Leafs' defence on a number of occasions tonight and he did make some good saves.
Nikolas Brouillard: He just hasn't impressed like he did at the rookie tournament last year. He likes to carry the puck a lot, but he's not nearly as fast with it as he is without it (and although that's generally true, it's especially true of him), which means that he gets caught. His defensive awareness isn't great, either.
Jeremy Bracco: He had a quiet night against Montreal but started to show at least a little as the game wore on. He's a great passer, and carries the puck with speed. His size hampers his ability to get pucks out of the DZ, particularly along the boards. Pittsburgh's D always pinched down hard on him. He showed off his hands on the overtime winner, though.
Andreas Johnsson: He just hasn't been as noticeable in this tournament as he should be. He's a bit older, has experience playing against grown men, and hasn't been a big threat offensively. In fact, he took a bad penalty in the first. His speed and playmaking are evident, and so I don't want to be too harsh on him, but these two games were not his best showing. He hasn't looked bad by any stretch, but you'd expect him to do better against this level of competition. He also didn't look as strong in this game against the more physical Pens lineup.
Tony Cameranesi: He's looked good in this tournament, but then, you'd expect a guy who is 23 to look good in this kind of tournament. He almost didn't get a contract from the Leafs at all, but I'm interested to see what he can do at the Ricoh.
Martins Dzierkals: He's looked really great in both games. He skates very well with the puck, and can be quite shifty on the rush. I'd like to see him shoot a little more, but he does pass well. He doesn't shy away from corners on the forecheck. Because he was drafted out of Europe, he'll be eligible to play for the Marlies this season, and he should make the team.