Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs Rookie Showdown recap: Habs find some offence after a slow start

The rookies played much better against Toronto, but a few costly errors set the tone of the game.

After a poor showing against the Ottawa Senators prospects on Friday, the Canadiens rookies were back on the ice to face off with the Maple Leafs. Toronto was coming off a 6-5 overtime loss to the Senators on Saturday afternoon, so both squads were looking to end the tournament on a high note.

Montreal was without the services of Jake Evans, who is recovering in concussion protocol after a scary incident on Friday night. Getting the start in net would be second-year AHL netminder Michael McNiven, while Samuel Harvey served as his backup for the game. Between the pipes for Toronto was 2018 seventh-round pick Zachary Bouthillier.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi looked to rebound after an uneven outing on Friday, and he was flanked by Joel Teasdale and Antoine Waked on the top line. Cale Fleury drew in on defence, playing alongside fellow WHL defender Jarret Tyszka. Cam Hillis, Brandon Hagel, and Hayden Verbeek sat out this contest while Waked, Morgan Adams-Moisan and Phélix Martineau drew in at the forward positions.

A slow start to the game was broken thanks to a penalty to Adams-Moisan, which gave the Leafs an early power play, and while killing off the first infraction, Waked took a penalty of his own. On the ensuing five-on-three man advantage, Toronto scored the opening goal as McNiven caught a piece of the puck, but not enough to prevent Carl Grundstrom’s shot from trickling into the net.

Things didn’t immediately improve much from there either, as the Canadiens still had to finish off the remainder of Waked’s penalty, and a slick backdoor pass from Mason Marchment to Jeremy Bracco doubled Toronto’s lead.

A Rasmus Sandin penalty against Kotkaniemi sent the Canadiens prospects to the power play for the first time as they looked to climb back out of their early hole. There were a few looks,  but no goals followed on the man advantage.

For the second time this weekend, a Canadiens prospect required the attention of the full medical staff. With a puck coming back into the Montreal defensive zone, Tyszka had his back turned, and with that opening Hudson Elynuik cross-checked him headfirst into the end boards. Tyszka was put onto a stretcher and taken off the ice, while Elynuik was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct.

The following power play would last only a short time as Waked collected his second penalty of the opening period, sending the teams to four-on-four hockey. The bright spot following the horrific injury was the emergence of Kotkaniemi on the power play, his passing and aggressiveness on the ice shone through as the Canadiens prospects started to slowly find their legs.

The start to the second period was not the type of response any coach would be happy with. Adams-Moisan was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for a hit from behind, and while the officials prepared to call that, Michael Pezzetta dropped his gloves with Andrew Nielsen. Some smart play by Joel Teasdale evened out the penalty for two minutes as he drew a call.

On the four-on-four, Lukas Vejdemo set up T.J. Melancon for the best chance of the afternoon to that point for the Habs, but he couldn’t solve Bouthillier.

The tide slowly began to shift toward the Leafs’ end, with Vejdemo getting a few good looks following the penalty kill, and Pezzetta would end up drawing a penalty in front of the net to give Montreal another chance on the man advantage.

While the Habs didn’t capitalize on their power play once again, they would finally make it onto the scoreboard shortly thereafter. Will Bitten took a pass from Alexander Katerinakis, and blew by every Maple Leafs player on the ice before getting a shot on net. With the puck slowly trickling to the goal line, Cole Fonstad jumped in and swiped the puck into the net to give the Canadiens their first goal of the tournament.

Despite out-shooting Toronto 9-2 over the course of the period, the Canadiens could not find a tying goal before the horn sounded. It was, however, a great period for the prospects as they found some synergy and offensive touch even if they only managed the one goal.

The third period got off to a much better start for the Canadiens, with Bitten getting involved physically, and a few minutes later some hustle from Kotkaniemi once again forced Toronto into taking a penalty, giving Montreal a golden opportunity to tie the contest.

Even with the power play failing to generate much of anything, the Canadiens tied the game in short order. Kotkaniemi used a perfect slow saucer pass to Melancon and the defender scored a pinball goal to knot the game at two goals apiece.

After Timothy Liljgren and Pezzetta exchanged some pleasantries in a scrum, and the two teams shifted to a session of four-on-four hockey, which was followed by a Josh Brook penalty. Phélix Martineau had a breakaway chance, yet couldn’t find the handle to notch the short-handed marker. As the penalty reached its final moments, a Toronto shot hit off of Michal Moravčík’s skate and past McNiven to give Toronto their lead back.

McNiven made an incredible lunging save to keep that deficit at just one as the Leafs counter-attack caught Montreal flatfooted at their blue line.

The Canadiens’ search for a tying goal would be in vain, despite some strong final shifts from Vejdemo and Teasdale. Grundstrom deposited the puck into the empty net, and that sent the Habs prospects packing without a win in the event

The focus will now shift to the main camp, and many of these players will soon be heading back to their respective Junior or European clubs for the regular season. You can expect to see standouts like Bitten and Vejdemo competing alongside veteran roster players when the NHL camp gets underway shortly.

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