The Habs and Leafs may be playing out the final games of failed seasons, but put these two teams on Hockey Night in Canada, and you seem to always get a competitive affair.
The game started off like most Montreal Canadiens games do, with the Habs tentative and unprepared for their opponent, and they iced the puck just moments after the opening faceoff.
The Toronto Maple Leafs capitalized on their early advantage in play by scoring the opening goal. Brendan Leipsic blew past Alexei Emelin on his way out of the defensive zone, rushed down the ice, and took a shot that led to a juicy rebound. Matt Hunwick beat his check, Paul Byron, to the front of the crease, and put the rebound into the open net.
Alex Galchenyuk responded shortly after with an absolute snipe. Mike Babcock decided to use his challenge on a review for goaltender interference, but it was determined that the contact on Jonathan Bernier was too light and too far out of the blue paint to overturn the call.
The Leafs and Canadiens are tied up at one after @AGally94 fires a rocket past Bernier. #RGCL #HockeyNight pic.twitter.com/pRNpM2FVpE— Rogers NHL GCL (@RogersNHLGCL) February 28, 2016
The Leafs got the chance to retake the lead, getting the first power play of the game after Max Pacioretty's knee brushed against Nazem Kadri and the Leafs forward sold it very well to those wearing the stripes. The Habs did a good job of killing the penalty off, and the period ended in a 1-1 tie.
The second period started with the Leafs announcing that their key remaining trade piece, Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, would be out for the rest of the game with an upper-body injury, putting the Leafs hopes of flipping him for more draft picks in jeopardy, and hamstringing a team that struggles to score goals even with their best players healthy.
The Habs took the opportunity to assert themselves early on, and drew a power play as a result. This one looked reasonably good, and Brendan Gallagher appeared to score a goal with some wicked hand-eye coordination, but the officials actually put those 4K cameras (which you may have heard mentioned once ot twice) to use to make the right call, identifying it as a high stick.
Around the mid-point of the period new addition Michael McCarron started a play with a great forecheck, and Alexei Emelin threw the puck on net. Devante Smith-Pelly got the final touch on the puck afer it deflected off McCarron, and the Habs went up 2-1. McCarron got his first NHL point on the play, in his third game in the league.
Greg Pateryn tried to replace Dale Weise as the People's Hero, antagonizing Kadri in an attempt to goad him into a bad penalty, though the refs did not oblige.
The Habs did draw another penalty before the end of the period, but gave up a great short-handed chance to Leo Komarov. Mike Condon came up with a big save and the Habs survived their man advantage.
The third period started as calmly as the first two, only to have P.K. Subban called for unsportsmanlike conduct. This time the Canadiens had the best chance while down a player, as Lars Eller had his second short-handed break of the game, but couldn't capitalize. Condon kept up his strong game, coming up with some big saves to kill off the penalty to keep the Habs ahead.
With the penalty killed, Pacioretty padded the lead with a Pacioretty-esque rocket of a wrister that proved to be the killshot. Andrei Markov showed that while his legs might be going, his vision is still fine, thank you very much, registering a beautiful assist by setting up the one-time goal.
Pacioretty followed that up with a second goal just moments later. A purposefully wide shot from Pateryn placed the puck behind the Leafs' defence, and Pacioretty was the first to touch it, knocking it into the net. The assist was also the first NHL point for Pateryn.
The Leafs tried to mount a comeback, but Condon was too strong to let the lead slip away.
The Habs tried to get Pacioretty his hat-trick goal on a late-game power play, but the captain never got a clear lane, and the Habs settled for a 4-1 victory.
Michael McCarron's development was helped by him being switched to centre in junior, and someone convincing him that he did not need to fight to make an impact on a game. He is a physical freak, but the fact that he puts that size to more effective use that pummeling an opponent is wonderful.
Max Pacioretty appears to be injured based on his ice-time and the fact that there is something off about his game. Michel Therrien loves Pacioretty and usually plays him a lot, so there is probably something there. That said, he can still shoot the puck.
Therrien said he would play the kids, yet McCarron, who had a fantastic game, did not crack 10 minutes of play. For a team that is supposedly playing the kids, this seems counter-productive, although it may have had something to do with his hectic travel schedule over the past few days.
Sven Andrighetto is a gem of a player. He may be short, but his strength is evident when he engages in battles on the boards. He is fast, he is strong, and he is offensively capable. He's an example of why height does not matter that much as long as the player is the right type of small.
Philip Danault may not be a scorer, but his first game as a Hab has been notable because his speed gives him the chance to create scoring chances out of nothing plays. It is a welcome sight, and his line with Jacob de la Rose and Paul Byron has potential to drive play if nothing more.