Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 5-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens Friday in the first game of their 2017 Rookie Tournament at Ricoh Coliseum:
1. Canadiens strike first, but Kaskisuo keeps it close. The opening period of Game No. 1 of the Leafs' three-team tournament (that also includes the Ottawa Senators) was a fast and spirited affair, with the arch-rival franchises displaying the passion that has defined their battles over the past century. Toronto found themselves trailing first in the game after Habs centre Thomas Ebbing took possession of the puck just inside the Buds' blueline, quickly moved in on Leafs goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo, and fired it over his glove to give Montreal a 1-0 advantage at 8:07 of the first frame.
Kaskisuo wasn't lacking for confidence following Ebbing's goal, though. In fact, he kept Montreal's lead to a single goal with a terrific cross-crease left pad save on Victor Mete late in the opening frame, and although Toronto trailed entering the second period and was on their heels for a good deal of the first 20 minutes of action, they outshot the Habs 9-7 and were in a good position to even the score after the first intermission.
2. Leafs pull even, take lead with strong second frame. The Leafs found a higher gear in the second period, outshooting the Canadiens 16-9 - and a two-goal, rapid burst of offence from the home team made it 2-1 after 40 minutes of play.
The first Toronto goal came from winger Martins Dzierkals, who benefitted from a drive into the Montreal zone by teammate Vladimir Bobylev and ripped a shot past Habs netminder Michael McNiven at 16:54 of the period to tie the game at a goal apiece. Then, just 1:35 later - and with the Buds just beginning a power play - forward Jeremy Bracco took a pass at the Canadiens' blueline and shot it through traffic and into the visitors' net to give the Leafs their first lead of the evening.
The Buds had the crowd at Ricoh buzzing as the period came to a close, and thanks to their strong play at even strength and on special teams, they'd earned confidence as the third period began.
3. Habs tie score early in third, quickly follow it with go-ahead and insurance markers. Though the Leafs ended the second period looking sharp and focused, the Canadiens started the third with authority, quickly pressing in Toronto's zone. And they were rewarded for it at the 1:25 mark when winger William Bitten beat Buds goalie Ian Scott with a top corner shot that evened the score at 2-2. And just 2:20 afterward, Montreal centre Alexandre Alain made the most of a Leafs turnover and a 2-on-1 break, and beat Scott with a far side wrist shot to put the Canadiens in front again.
The Canadiens continued their push as the period continued, and added to their lead just past the halfway point of the frame when Ebbing took advantage of a turnover by Toronto blueliner Timothy Liljegren and netted his second of the night to increase their advantage to 4-2.
4. Goals continue coming for Habs to put game out of reach with nine minutes left in regulation. At the 11:02 mark, Montreal carved out a three-goal lead on the power play when centre Daniel Audette fired a one-timer past Scott after a pass through slot from winger Martin Reway. Toronto's lack of discipline led to the power play, but the Buds' penalty kill had been solid prior to the final goal of the game. And despite the Leafs outshooting the Canadiens 36-27 on the night, the wind was taken out of the Buds' sails for the rest of regulation time and they never seriously challenged Montreal to get back into it.
We have to remember this was the first game for a number of young men who've never played at this level and who are still acclimating to new environments, new systems and new teammates. But there was certainly lots of room to improve for the Leafs, and Toronto Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe - who was behind the bench with the rookies Friday and will be again when they play Ottawa Sunday afternoon at Ricoh - will be focused on helping his charges play a smarter, more resilient game.
5. Physicality stands out for a number of Leafs. The Leafs didn't leave with a victory, but a number of their youngsters asserted themselves physically in this contest. Winger Mason Marchment laid into a few Canadiens players early on and followed his hits up with an offensive opportunity, while winger Carl Grundstrom was not shy about getting in his opponents' personal space and creating room for himself and his teammates.
Neither Marchment nor Grundstrom is a lock to see a lot or any NHL time this season, but you can be assured both players earned the respect of their opponents and their fellow young Leafs with their robust style.