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2017 Rookie Tournament: Highlights and impressions from the Canadiens’ 5-2 win over the Leafs

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The Habs kick off the showcase event with a win over the hosts.

Reway development camp Shanna Martin/EOTP

The Montreal Canadiens kicked off the 2017 Rookie Tournament on Friday night at the Ricoh Coliseum with a 5-2 win over the host Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Habs iced 22 players for the game, each team allowed two additional players in the lineup for the tournament.

The Canadiens initially scratched 2017 fifth-round selection Jarret Tyszka in favour of Scott Walford, but just prior to the start of the game it was announced that Walford was out, so Tyszka stepped in to take his place.

A couple of players had switched jersey numbers since the development camp. Will Bitten took #77, as Andreas Martinsen now claims his #37, and Thomas Ebbing moved to #85 after Ales Hemsky took #83.

The top line of Jeremiah Addison, Daniel Audette, and Martin Réway looked like a stacked unit on paper, but in reality struggled for the first part of the game to generate scoring chances. Réway in particular looked rusty to start, and appeared to have a hard time keeping up, coasting to the bench very late for a line change in the first period.

It was the third line of Jordan Boucher, Ebbing, and Maxime Fortier that caused the most trouble to start, with Boucher driving hard to the net and crashing into Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo early on. Ebbing scored the first goal at 8:07 of the first period on a nifty deke, spinning Leafs first-round defender Timothy Liljegren inside out on the way to the goal.

Probably the best line all night for the Habs was the trio centred by Niki Petti, with Michael Pezzetta and Bitten putting on a show on the flanks.

Pezzetta showed a lot of (for the lack of a better word) truculence on the ice, both with his physical play off the puck and offensive skill with it. He had the first good chance for the Habs on the night, but didn't get on the scoreboard. He did manage to get his name on the game sheet for a coincidental misconduct penalty at the end of the first period, and then a five-minute major for fighting with the much bigger Keaton Middleton in the second. When not throwing fists he was throwing hits.

Bitten was making his impact with his tremendous skill and speed, standing out as one of the best players on the ice. For a brief moment Audette and Bitten found themselves on the ice together, and it led to an immediate scoring chance, stopped only by the heroics of Kaskisuo.

The goaltender was notorious for pulling off tremendous saves against the St. John's IceCaps last season, and once again he proved incredibly skilled in stopping several high-danger shots; none more stellar than a point-blank tap-in opportunity from Victor Mete on a beautiful play in the Leafs’ zone.

Michael McNiven shone in goal for the Canadiens, stopping everything that he could see. He faced 36 shots in total, but conceded two goals in quick succession in the second period to put the Leafs in the lead. Both came after he was screened, but, encouragingly, that was a rare occurrence. The Habs young defenders were very adept at blocking shots or providing McNiven with a clear line of sight.

The netminder finished the game with an assist and had a chance for a second after setting up Pezzetta for rush, showing off his strong stickhandling abilities.

McNiven played the full 60 minutes, but Kaskisuo gave up the crease halfway through the second to fresh draft pick Ian Scott.

The Leafs were up 2-1 after two periods of play, but Bitten did end up scoring a goal that levelled the game at 2-2 early in the third period.

Once the game was tied the Habs blew the gates wide open. Waked and tryout Alexandre Alain had consecutive two-on-ones, with Waked’s shot on the first resulting in a save, before Alain was able to beat Scott with a slick shot on the second.

Ebbing added a second goal on a bad turnover, putting the Habs up 4-2.

Finally it was the top line that redeemed itself after a weak game by connecting for a power-play goal. Audette got the I'm credit with assists from Réway and Simon Bourque. This was Réway's first point of any kind wearing a Canadiens jersey in a competitive environment.

(Notice how Réway is surprised by the sudden appearance of boards on the narrower rink.)

The fourth line of James McEwan, Alain, and Waked had some extended shifts in the third period, but did not provide much of a presence, and served more to rest up the other lines for their game on Saturday.

Both teams shook hands at the conclusion of the game, with compatriots Réway and Kristian Pospisil sharing a moment afterward.

One of the more fascinating things to see last night was the defence corps. Unfortunately Scott Walford was absent and Josh Brook left the game with an injury, so there was little opportunity to see them play. Brook looked very strong in the few minutes he did get. Cale Fleury looked good and played some tougher minutes with Victor Mete on a pairing. Jarret Tyszka was hesitant and not quite ready to play at this level of competition.

Noah Juulsen, wearing the C for the Habs, did not provide much offence for the Canadiens, but he was a steadying presence on the back end; solid yet unspectacular.

Out of the tryouts, Jordan Boucher seemed to stand out the most with a complete two-way game. He has size, speed, and a physical inclination. Maxime Fortier has obvious skill, but could not drive to the net. Alexandre Goulet did not stand out.

Canadiens goals

  1. Ebbing (Fortier, Fleury)
  2. Bitten (Leblanc, McNiven)
  3. Alain (McEwan)
  4. Ebbing (2) (unassisted)
  5. Audette (Réway, Bourque)

The Canadiens are back in action tonight against the Ottawa Senators. Antoine Samuel should be expected to get the start for the Canadiens in net, though the team may also want to see more minutes from McNiven.

Game time is 7:30 PM EDT.


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