Here we go again.
With Brian Burke back in the news, it’s fitting that his greatest contribution to the Maple Leafs — a rebuilt farm system — take center stage in the days leading up to actual meaningful hockey. The Baby Leafs have a gold-plated defense group and a forward contingent that breaks down fairly nicely into scoring lines and checking lines; the lines should pretty much roll themselves.
With players like Morgan Rielly trying to make an impact prior to the start of Leafs camp, and guys like Leivo, Biggs, and Percy looking to solidify key roles with the Marlies, the stakes are a lot higher for these kids than they may seem to fans on the surface. These aren’t your typical pre-season games and they’ll provide a great glimpse at what the future has in store for the big club.
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Very physical period for both team, even if you don’t count the two fights.
Pittsburgh scored first on the PP when Harrington’s shot beat Gibson, unscreened. It was tough to tell from my vantage point whether the Penguin at the side of the net was a factor but Finn definitely lost body positioning on him, giving him the inside lane to the net. Finn was otherwise reasonably solid.
Toronto responded first with the pair of fights and after winning those, supplied anecdotal evidence that fighting impacts momentum, taking it to the Pens for the rest of the period. Both Ruperts got on the board as the Leafs scored a powerplay goal at the side of the net. It was a bit of a greasy one with Biggs floating around the net as well but the shot was a pretty tight angle and Rupert did well to hit it.
Standouts: Percy’s defensive play was very strong that period — something he’ll hope to carry into Leafs training camp, I’m sure. Also, Ross’ physicality was noteworthy and borderline dirty, which is exactly where we want him to live.
(Matt) Rupert goal (1-1):
Things calmed down a little bit in the 2nd after a very eventful 1st period.
Pittsburgh struck first again, on the PP, after Gibson left a rebound on a point shot sit 8 feet in front of his crease. He made a pair of nice saves on rebounds but the defense was caught napping and the Penguins were able to put it away.
As with the 1st period, the Leafs answered shortly thereafter with Ross and Verhaeghe doing the yeoman’s work and Fabrice Herzog reaping the rewards in front of the net. Nothing has been particularly pretty for the Leafs so far tonight but they’ve been rewarded when they’ve worked hard.
Standouts: Granberg’s transition game was really slick that period; he gets the puck to the forwards in stride and at the right time. Ross had an even better period in the 2nd. He was creating and his aggressiveness led to a few turnovers.
Herzog goal (2-2):
The third was a pretty uneventful period but it did provide Toronto’s nicest goal of the game. Andrew Crescenzi made the game 3-2 Leafs, flipping a one timer over the goalie in transition after he and Devane made a couple passes down ice.
The Penguins weren’t content to let me go and warm up though and scored to tie the game with seconds left (you can keep your playoff collapse jokes to yourself, thanks).
In the shootout, both Percy and Ross scored (Ross in the extra shooter portion) and with that, the Baby Buds have started the rookie tourney 2-0.