Tonight’s rendition of Hockey Night in Canada proves to us once again that there’s never a dull moment in the battle of Ontario.
Things started to get strange well before the puck was even dropped. Although we were unaware of it, Peter Holland sat the game out apparently suffering from “lace bite” a condition resulting from new and improperly broken in skates. I can’t personally recall that being the reason given for a scratched player, but it makes sense given the amount of skating NHL players are doing.
This seemingly non-serious injury, or more aptly put “owie” (with no offence to Peter Holland, it’s just a little bizarre) Greg McKegg was able to step into the lineup and dazzle us all with his parents possibly unintended alliteration. For the four of us (including myself) who were following Saturday morning’s saga involving Greg, he was given the call to cross the Gardner unexpectedly this morning and was likely deliberately coy with the media regarding his status for the game.
A quick note before I start the recap, McKegg was mostly invisible in the best way possible during his NHL debut. He looked a little behind during a couple breakouts and zone entrances but for the most part he got lost in the flow of the game. Which is good.
The game started after a well deserved toast to the Canadian Forces, in which one soldier appeared to be stuck temporarily as he waved dangling just under an I-beam in the rafters while his comrades were doing the same a fair distance below him (I don’t think they were repelling so much as being lowered by the winches they use to hoist Bon Jovi banners). Things were soon sorted out and “hundreds” of troops were soon able to take in a very exciting game against the Ottawa Senators for free.
The first got off to a pretty good start, with action going both ways and Toronto getting a slight edge in shots. Ottawa drew first blood however, with Chris Neil firing a shot off of the shin of Morgan Reilly past Jonathan Bernier in the last minute of the opener. To which I remarked “of course it’s Neil against Toronto”. Unsurprisingly I’d be repeating the statement later.
Almost a quarter of the way into the second Matt Kassian fought Frazer McLaren presumably over their preferred Superbowl teams. Punches were thrown, Kassian seemed to best McLaren. Not much to write about.
A couple minutes later Colin Greening would fire a fairly low-traffic shot from past the circles into the net past Bernier. Not the strongest goal of all time but well placed and enough to make it 2-o Ottawa. Oh yeah, Neil got the only assist.
Deeper into the period off the rush James van Riemsdyk fired a beautiful pass from the outside across the slot and onto the tape of Phil Kessel who buried it past Craig Anderson to re-ignite a game that was starting to look worrisome. 2-1 Senators.
One and a half minutes later Nazem Kadri would throw a… controversial hit on Cody Ceci behind the Senators net and make an excellent play to find Joffrey Lupul to tie the game at 2. You’ll have to see the play for yourself to make up your mind. The hit appeared to be from behind and what can possibly be called boarding, but it didn’t help appearances that Kadri came in with a head of steam and absolutely ran over Ceci. The ref indicated that Ceci turned but if you watch the replay Ceci moved his skate perpendicular to the boards to receive the hit in the proper manner and any turning he did was necessary in receiving the puck behind his own net. In my opinion it was definitely penalizable and probably review-able for suspension but the officials didn’t see it that way and the goal was ruled good after a bit of a scrum.
The third period was mostly the Phil Kessel, JVR and Tyler Bozak show, with the three of them creating some wonderful plays while scoring three to really win the game for the Leafs. Although after Kessel’s second the game was tied up at 3 when Chris Neil scored his second seemingly during the commercial break on a play missed by apparently everyone except for Lupul (who very nearly saved his team a goal by pulling it out of the net) and hockey operations who evidently aren’t hometown fans.
Nazem Kadri would ice the game with a classic “oh Kadri” moment in which he did something sort of dumb but executed well enough that you can’t really be angry. Shooting over 100 feet at an empty net is usually not a good idea, but neither is trying to dangle literally everyone and he seems to manage both from time to time.
In the end dazzling offence was enough to warn the Toronto Maple Leafs a 6-3 victory over their provincial rivals.
Kessel scored his hattrick which was good enough to get him the first star selection from Elliot Friedman (I think).
Chris Neil the certified Leaf-killer got the second which was well deserved.
Bozak got the third star nod with his two-point night.