It might not have been the official start of the Battle of Ontario for this season, but Tuesday night's rookie game between the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs did get some blood boiling. And although the Sens gave up their 1-0 lead with some frenetic play late in the second period, another third-period comeback gave Ottawa's rookies the win and tied them for the best record in the tournament.
Mike Hoffman scored Ottawa's first goal as well as the tying marker to give him four goals and two assists on the tournament, and Erik Condra had the winner midway through the third period. With the two goals in the final frame Tuesday night, ten of the Senators' rookies 13 goals through the tournament were third-period goals.
The game really got going, though, with Nazem Kadri's flying elbow in the second period. After taking a hit in the Senators zone, Kadri took a run at a Senators defender--jumping at him elbow-first, and getting a penalty for his efforts. When he left the box in the third, defenceman Eric Gryba went right at him, but Kadri wanted no part of it, so vilified forward Mike Liambas stepped in to fight Gryba. The fight seemed to energize the Senators, though, and Ottawa carried much of the play for the third.
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Although we now know that Hoffman can score, Tuesday's game taught us another thing: He's not much of a powerplay quarterback, at least not if he's put on the point. During Kadri's penalty, Hoffman gave up the puck horribly in the defensive zone, lost a race to it in the neutral zone, and tipped the puck in on Toronto's second goal. He's got his strengths, and he might become a good powerplay point-man, but that's not a strenght right now.
And although Hoffman had two goals tonight, the first star of the game--and certainly most surprising player--might be Jim O'Brien. He was buzzing all night, and seemed to be skating circles around other players, even if he didn't get much on the scoreboard. His line, with Kaspars Daugavins and Erik Condra, had some very good offensive-zone pressure and cycled the puck well, hemming in the Leafs defenders for whole shifts. I've been critical of O'Brien, and he hasn't done much to impress yet, but his effort in the Rookie Camp--and especially Tuesday's game--was impressive.
Goaltender Robin Lehner was good tonight. He bounced back well from a less than stellar first game in the rookie tournament, stopped 24 of 26 shots, and both goals were from deflections at or around the crease. He just needs to lose the Darth Gerber helmet and we'll all feel a little more comfortable with him in net.
With the win, the Senators have apparently won or finished tied for first in their last four rookie tournaments. That's not bad.
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