Although the real Battle of Ontario is still a couple weeks away, the Ottawa Senators’ youngsters outdueled Toronto’s hopefuls 3-2 in the final game of Maple Leafs rookie tournament Tuesday in London, Ont.
Mike Hoffman scored two goals for the Senators and Erik Condra potted the winner, while Brad Ross and Jerry D’Amigo responded for the Leafs.
Toronto finished the tournament 1-2 while the Senators joined the Pittsburgh Penguins with the tournament’s best record of 2-1. The Chicago Blackhawks finished 1-2 after a lopsided 9-5 victory over the Penguins earlier in the day.
Hoffman opened the scoring for the Senators with less than five minutes remaining in the first period. After Marcel Mueller shattered his stick on a clearing attempt, Sens forward Colin Greening scooped up the loose puck and made a nifty pass to Hoffman, who beat Toronto goaltender Andrew Engelage over the shoulder.
The Leafs had a chance to tie it up late in the first as Andrew Crescenzi broke in alone but couldn’t beat the outstretched pad of Ottawa netminder Robin Lehner.
After returning from an injury that kept him out of the previous game, Nazem Kadri put on a display of grit and skill for his hometown fans in the early going of the first with a slick toe-drag around a Senators defenceman, followed up by a solid open-ice hit on Condra.
Both goalies were sharp to start the second period. Lehner made a nice reflex save on a deflection in close, while Engelage answered at the other end as he stretched his pad across the crease and kept the puck out after nearly being run over by a charging Sens forward.
With Toronto on a power play late in the period, Ross, the Leafs second-round pick in the 2010 entry draft, tied the game at 16:06 after getting his stick on a Simon Gysbers one-timer while standing in front of the net.
Kadri made his presence felt again late in the period after narrowly missing a thunderous check before targeting another Sens defenceman and running him down behind the net. The team’s 2009 No. 1 pick was called for elbowing on the play.
On the ensuing power play, D’Amigo rushed in short-handed and tried to slide a pass across to Sam Carrick, but the puck hit Hoffman’s stick and bounced past Lehner , giving the Leafs a 2-1 advantage heading into the third.
Apparently the Senators didn’t take too kindly to Kadri’s physicality in the second period.
As soon as he stepped out of the penalty box 40 seconds into the third, Kadri was greeted by 6’4” defenceman Eric Gryba, who tried to engage the Leafs’ star rookie in a fight.
Kadri wanted to part of the tussle, but Michael Liambas – a 5’9” spark plug – rushed to his teammate’s defence and brought the crowd to its feet with a spirited bout.
The momentum was short-lived however, as Richard Greenop and Mueller took back-to-back penalties to give Ottawa a two-man advantage.
Despite making a few good saves at the onset of the power play, Engelage was unable to get his blocker on a Hoffman one-time blast, allowing the Senators to tie the game a 2.
The parade to the penalty box continued as Drew Paris was called for charging shortly after the Sens power-play marker.
And Ottawa took full advantage, picking apart the Leafs’ penalty kill with pin-point passing before Condra finished off the play, easily tipping the puck into an open net.
Ottawa outshot Toronto 27-26 in a game that featured some stellar goaltending and plenty of truculence.
The Leafs open their main camp Friday, and will get a chance to see what several of their rookies can do against other NHL competition.