Team Axe Body Spray (thanks Ice!) triumphed in a 7-4 gunfight with Team Europe Sunday evening, in a deeply entertaining World Cup of Hockey exhibition game. I know we all made fun of the gimmicky format, but watching Team North America in action completely justifies it.
Team North America started out looking like they were going to aim for double digits, with three goals in the first eight minutes of the game. The first goal featured both Morgan Rielly and Auston Matthews working to set up Brandon Saad and Aaron Ekblad, and my heart is full of rainbows:
Ekblad goal pic.twitter.com/meRSUcYZID— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 11, 2016
The European Union scored to bring things to 3-1, and then Morgan Rielly responded for the Young'uns.
Rielly goal pic.twitter.com/3ah9A1I70Z— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 11, 2016
By the end of the period, Team Born In The 90s was up 5-1, and looked to have the game locked. But some sloppy plays and Marian Gaborik meant that the Euro-squad gradually clawed back into the game, drawing to within one by the halfway point of the third. Johnny Gaudreau then proceeded to treat Luca Sbisa with terrible unkindness.
Gaudreau's 2nd goal pic.twitter.com/KLMFpA3LJe— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 12, 2016
Please send flowers to the Luca Sbisa Memorial Fund for Turnstiled Defencemen.
That goal made it 6-4; an empty-netter by Dylan Larkin set the capstone on the victory for a 7-4 final. One more thing worth giffing: Auston Matthews is good at hockey.
some guy named matthews pic.twitter.com/usthTEtmvT— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 12, 2016
This was a very fun game, and the enormous skill of the young guns was on display throughout. They dominated in shot attempts for the first two periods.
There were, however, warning signs. The North American Youths played an extremely wide-open, high chance hockey; giveaways and broken plays let the Europeans back in. As Jack Eichel put it: "We play like that against the other teams in the tournament, I don’t think we’ll have the same outcome." Team NA has the skill to compete with any team in the tournament, but a more structured opponent will feast on them if they don't get careful.
Team Europe...well, to be honest, it's hard to see how Team Europe gets out of the preliminary round. They have some talented forwards who can take advantage of opportunities, but this team's defence is simply not good enough. Poor Thomas Greiss was hardly to blame for the early barrage the youth squad threw at him; he made some good saves and was absolutely besieged.
At any rate, this was a very fun game with some incredible offensive talent on display. Both teams need to be better prepared for other opponents, but if the exhibitions have been any indication, we're in store for a great tournament.
Morgan Rielly paired with Aaron Ekblad, and the two of them had a solid night. They thrived in the o-zone, as you might expect, but also formed a very competent defensive pairing; I definitely think being on the left suits Rielly. According to Steve Burtch on Twitter, Rielly and Ekblad were skewed heavily towards defensive zone starts to free up the Parayko-Gostisbehere pairing. It's interesting to remember that by the standards of this team, Rielly is a veteran defender.
Morgan did make one rather glaring giveaway that probably made McClellan grit his teeth--a would-have-been pass to Ekblad as they retreated over their own blue line that was picked off--so he wasn't perfect, but I thought this was generally a solid performance from Morgan at both ends of the ice.
Auston Matthews sent Leafs' Twitter into raptures with his puck control and offensive instincts. He wasn't perfect--an old-timer would point out he and Connor McDavid were the only North American skaters to finish with minuses--but the level of talent on display was spectacular at times, as you can see from the above rush where he crisscrosses Roman Josi. He played point on the powerplay at times for NA, though he was a bit of a free roamer in that role; while the North American PP didn't connect tonight, it wasn't for want of effort on Matthews' part, and he's done everything to indicate he's ready to play up in this lineup. Be excited, Leafs fans. Be very excited.