The Toronto Maple Leafs’ rookie team defeated the Chicago Blackhawk rookies 3-2 in a shootout last Thursday.
The Leafs team, coached by new Marlies coach Steve Spott, seized the momentum at the start of the game, and maintained control for most of the first period.
Late into the first period the Blackhawks took an undisciplined penalty and the Leafs’ power play went to work. Morgan Rielly exhibited his excellent passing abilities as well as superb skating. Shortly into the penalty Josh Leivo was able to get the puck on net and make the game 1-0. Leivo’s goal was assisted by Stuart Percy and Petter Granberg.
Shortly into the second period a bad turnover by Chicago gave Brad Ross the opportunity to put the Leafs up 2-0. The Leafs kept up the play to keep the game at 2-0 for the rest of the period.
The third period saw the momentum change, as the Blackhawks controlled the puck more and put more pressure on the Leafs’ goalie Garret Sparks.
Sparks was beat by Terry Broadhurst on a shot he should have had, which cut the lead to 2-1. Later in the third Pat Mullane tied the game up.
The game went to overtime that was not too eventful, but Sparks did make a couple of big saves to keep the Leafs in it.
The shootout was an exciting back and forth affair until Rielly and Tyler Biggs scoring goals and Sparks getting a save to give the Leafs the win.
Overall there are several positive things about this team. The first has to be the top two defensive pairings. Matt Finn was paired with Rielly as the top pairing and they played well together. The second pairing made up of Percy and Granberg also played quite well. Granberg could develop into another, possibly better Carl Gunnarsson.
As previously mentioned Rielly really looked like he was skating faster than anyone else on the ice. This let him cover up for a couple plays that didn’t work out.
As for offense Leivo showed that he has the nose for offensive opportunities. His goal was a nice shot, and he will be a valuable piece for the Leafs moving forward as they do not have lots of scoring prospects right now.
The team captain, Greg McKegg, had a good game, nearly scoring on a one-timer from Rielly. McKegg played a strong game.
Another player worth mentioning was defensemen Andrew MacWilliam. MacWilliam played on the third pairing and threw several big hits. I am sure that he will continue to deliver hard hits, but he also showed some offensive flair.
The Leafs’ Frederik Gauthier played quite well on the third line. Gauthier played a strong two-way game, which is something he is known for.
The Leafs rookies played a good first two periods, but seemed to lose the momentum in the third. The next game is against Pittsburgh and could be very exciting.