LONDON, Ont. – The Pittsburgh Penguins wrapped up the 2014 Rookie Tournament at Budweiser Gardens with a 2-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday afternoon. Despite the setback, the Penguins won the tournament, winning their first two contests: a 4-3 come-from-behind win against Ottawa and a 5-4 shootout victory versus Chicago. Antoine Bibeau earned the shutout for Toronto, stopping all 25 shots the Penguins threw his way. Here’s our three biggest takeaways from the game…
1. ALL OVER THE RINK
Pittsburgh wasn’t able to crack Bibeau on Tuesday afternoon, but it wasn’t for a lack of quality scoring opportunities -- especially off the stick of rookie forward Bryan Rust. The University of Notre Dame’s leading scorer last season with 17 goals, Rust was a factor from his first shift. He nearly gave Pittsburgh a 1-0 advantage about eight minutes into the game, but his shot into an empty cage from the top of the crease was snarled out of the air by Bibeau in what was the netminder’s top save of the day.
While that was Rust’s best scoring opportunity, it was far from his only one. His line with Scott Wilson and Oskar Sundqvist consistently applied pressure on the Leafs D by controlling the puck along the wall in the offensive zone, as Rust displayed a level of grit that exceeds the 5-foot-11, 192-pound frame he possesses. That trio was by far Pittsburgh’s best on the final day.
Rust, who played in three games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the end of last year’s regular season and playoffs, wasn’t afraid to stick his nose into the top of the crease, deflecting two shots into Bibeau. Rust was also good along the wall on a day when Pittsburgh cost itself both a goal and an untimely penalty because it couldn’t direct the puck out of its zone.
2. FINDING HIS LEGS
Adam Payerl finished the tournament with one assist in three contests, but his numbers on the scoresheet don’t tell the story of how well his overall performance progressed throughout the weekend.
A third-year pro who checks in at 6-foot-3, Payerl played like a big man on Tuesday afternoon. Toronto’s defensive corps was the biggest in the tournament, but that didn’t stop Payerl from winning puck battles and creating offense off the cycle below the goal line seemingly at will.
“It took me a little bit of time to get my timing back in the first couple of games,” Payerl said. “I think this game was definitely my best. I want to take that into main camp.”
Payerl did some good things when the puck was on his stick Tuesday, but he also stood out for what he did when it wasn’t. Twice, Payerl came deep into the D-zone on the backcheck to break up Maple Leaf scoring opportunities. In both instances, Payerl, who has underrated foot speed for a big man, quickly sped to the offensive zone, creating odd-man advantages for the Penguins.
Finally, in the third period, Payerl further displayed an edge to his game by dropping the gloves and engaging in a competitive bout with Toronto's Jeremie Fraser.
After a successful weekend in London, Payerl, who appeared in two games with Pittsburgh at the end of last year, has his sights on making the big club.
“I need to make my presence felt in the games that I play,” Payerl said. “I’m a big guy, so I need to use my size effectively to create offense and be physical.”
3. RELIEF EFFORT
Pittsburgh played this weekend without two of its top draft picks from the last three years as Derrick Pouliot and Kasperi Kapanen were both sidelined due to injury. But the Penguins’ top selection from 2013, goaltender Tristan Jarry, shined in relief against Toronto.
Jarry, who relieved Matt Murray midway through the contest, stopped all 14 shots he faced Tuesday, beginning with a left-pad kick save from the high slot on the first opportunity he saw.
For Jarry, Tuesday’s performance was a continuation of how he finished his last appearance on Sunday against Chicago when he denied 3-of-4 shootout attempts to secure the victory.
Thanks to his efforts on Tuesday, Jarry concluded tournament play by stopping 50 of the 54 shots directed his way for an impressive .926 save percentage.
It wasn’t just that Jarry stopped every shot tossed at him, but the rather the manner in which he did so. Despite facing several glorious Grade-A chances in his 29 minutes between the pipes, Jarry was calm and technically solid on each, directing pucks out of harm's way almost effortlessly. The best save of his day came in the latter stages of the third period when he made a phenomenal glove save on OHL MVP Connor Brown’s rebound chance from atop the crease.