POSTGAME: Good kids beat b.A.A.d city in overtime win

Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SPORTS

You wouldn’t know it by the scoreboard, but the Leafs were utterly dominant tonight. Front to back, it looked like boys against men. The counter-argument to that is that perhaps it was; Toronto dressed an NHL-ready lineup while the Habs experimented with their AHLers. The counter-counter is that Toronto’s men are considered, just boys to begin with and that such a thing is no excuse when one side of the ice appears to be tilted with a comically oversized anvil. Whatever the case, the end result was a 3-2 overtime victory for the Maple Leafs.

The first couple minutes of this game were relatively neck and neck, and it was actually the Habs who struck first. A turnover by James van Riemsdyk put Montreal in an advantageous position, and Daniel Audette made no mistake in grabbing the resulting icebreaker. 

But the team really turned on their gears in the second period, moving the puck into their preferred zone and really beginning to create opportunities. This would’ve been a great time for one of the kids to create their first dazzling moment at the Air Canada Centre, and the call was answered; not by Auston Matthews, not by Mitch Marner, but by the oldest of the rookies, 24-year old Nikita Zaitsev.

After trying to get the puck up the boards, he decided to grab the equalizer himself, bursting out of the left side and wiring a snapper past Mike Condon. It was one of many great efforts by the Russian, who Mike Babcock called the best of the new rookie players tonight.

Things didn’t stop there for the Leafs, though, and once again, the effort came from the point. Morgan Rielly put Toronto ahead with 12 minutes to go with this beauty of an end-to-end play:

Rielly does it all here. He helps to create the shift in possession with his check on the back boards, he races to get the puck from Zach Hyman, feeds it to William Nylander, and pinches into just the right position to get the goal. For a while, it seemed like it would be the game winner, but then both Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick took penalties with about two and a half minutes to go, creating a 6-on-3 situation.

While the Leafs killed off the man-disadvantage, the Habs did end up striking before Polak could find himself in proper position, forcing a high-energy overtime. Mitch Marner had a gorgeous opportunity to end it, taking over the neutral and offensive zones singlehandedly to create a chance, but it was James van Riemsdyk who had the stellar “power forward” effort to give Matt Hunwick a redemption gimme to win the Leafs the game.

It was a very solid night for the group all around, as they took two-thirds of the attempted shots over the course of the evening. Babcock remarked that he wasn’t impressed with turnovers that his players had over the course of the game, and that the effort, on the whole, could have been better. But that’s one of the benefits of playing your closer-to-final roster together throughout the preseason; you get to create chemistry and you get to adjust the system to reflect the skill sets of your new talent.

Also not talked about by us (but you better believe it was talked about on the broadcast; Auston Matthews was obscene, even if left off the scoresheet. His hands were moving, he was always in position, and he had a couple of near-goals throughout. Needless to say, he’s looking not just NHL ready, but NHL great already. The Leafs return to the ice on Tuesday to take on the Senators, in Saskatoon.

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