The Leafs’ rookies took the tournament opener as a result of their energy, skill, and goaltending. They outpaced a Chicago group that was forced to rely more on physicality to gain ground. They caught the Leafs temporarily, but in the end Toronto came away with a win they probably deserved as Morgan Rielly and Tyler Biggs converted in the shootout to secure a 3-2 Leaf victory.
A few meaningful observations may be gleaned from the three-game sample after the weekend, but keep in mind that one sloppy game featuring thrown-together lineups is, well, just one sloppy game featuring thrown-together lineups. Let’s summarize the period recaps by Matt Mistele from last night’s live blog, for what it’s worth:
- With all the focus on the Bernier/Reimer debate heading into next season, not much has been made recently of the Leafs’ net depth behind the top two. Garret Sparks has turned in an impressive night, stopping several shots through traffic and snagging at least one high, hard snapper with the glove hand impressively enough to make Francois Allaire wonder, “You can do that?” Spott mentioned in the post game that he would’ve probably liked the first goal back, but the showing was solid.
- We’re all aware of Biggs’ purported skating limitations, but on first glance, he’s added speed since my last viewing. In close, the mobility still seems like an issue – but that’s one of the hardest elements of proper skating technique to develop. Nevertheless, he brings a 100% effort level on every shift and gets his job done by making the right play. Hard played north-south shifts throughout the game.
- Morgan Rielly took over the game on a few of his shifts and at points was dominant with the puck on his sick. The passing and skating skills on Morgan are sublime… this we all knew. He did get beat once to the outside. Obviously, if there’s a hole in his game, his play without the puck would be his development focus.
- Rielly and Finn formed the PP point tandem of Matt’s dreams.
- Josh Leivo sat out the third with an injury, but needed only two periods to make a pretty significant impact. From creating offense out of situations you wouldn’t normally consider opportunities to using his teammates well, he impressed from the get go and was rewarded with a power play goal. Leivo doesn’t immediately strike you the way his 6’2 frame would suggest, but he uses the size well. It’s probably no coincidence the team sagged without Leivo at Spott’s disposal.
- The “more physical Gunnarsson” description matched with Granberg, but signs of adjustment wrinkles were evident in some misplays on the puck.
- Youngest player on the ice, Carter Verhaeghe showed glimpses of impressive skills, but was understandably tentative at times. A player Hughes described as having a 48-month development schedule, he’ll be given ample time to figure out if he can piece together the raw skills at his disposal.
Notable highlights from Steve Spott’s postgame scrum, courtesy of Matt:
- On the mobility and skill of his young defensive corps: “Wow.”
- Spott was impressed by the team’s ability to come together quickly.
- He was also enthusiastic about Sparks’ performance, only calling out the first goal as one Garrett might potentially want another shot at.
- Spott confirmed Leivo missed the third period due to a chest contusion suffered when he took a hit earlier in the game.
Game in 6:
The most crushing playoff defeat in my lifetime. Michael is much older than I (it’s Alec putting together these links), but you don’t have to go too far back in time to find mine.
Why did Darren Dreger say mean things about Kadri on the radio – You can just picture Nonis mouthing Dreger’s words like Richard Peddie at the Cliff Fletcher press conference.