Canadiens topple Maple Leafs in first game of rookie tournament

Habs get solid outings from Bitten, Ebbing, and McNiven in 5-2 victory.

Thomas Ebbing and Will Bitten had two goals apiece to boost the Montreal Canadiens to a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first game of the NHL Rookie Tournament.

Alexandre Alain also scored for the Habs.

Martins Dzierkals and Carl Grundstrom replied for the Maple Leafs.

The Canadiens opened the scoring when Ebbing split through the Toronto defence and roofed a puck over Kasimir Kaskisuo at 11:40 of the first period.

Habs put sustained pressure on the Leafs back end throughout the period, using their speed to get in on the forecheck and create scoring chances.

“For me, this was a game to shake the rust off,” Toronto defenceman Andrew Nielsen said post-game. “You kind of shy away from the physical play in the summer. You don’t have 6-foot-3, 225-pound guys running you in the corners, so it’s a wakeup call.”

The spirit of the Leafs-Habs rivalry wasn’t lost on the prospects, with both teams getting in on the physical play early.

Keaton Middleton and Michael Pezzetta dropped the gloves in the second, with both players landing big shots on each other.

Halfway through the second, Kaskisuo was replaced by Ian Scott, who was put to work right away. The 2017 fourth rounder made a huge cross-crease save to keep the Leafs within a goal.

They took advantage of that opportunity. Martins Dzierkals beat Habs goalie Michael McNiven with a wrist shot from the slot to tie the game with 3:08 left in the period.

Carl Grundstrom followed up with a tip in on a Jeremy Bracco shot to put the Leafs ahead 2-1 before the end of the second frame.

“It’s fun to get back on the small ice again,” said Grundstsrom. “It’s a different game here than in Sweden, so it will take a few games to get used to it, but hopefully (my play) gets better and better.”

Maple Leafs outshot Montreal 25-16 through two periods.

Canadiens took back the lead in the first five minutes of the third. Bitten got in behind the Leafs defence to tie the game 1:25 into the period. 2:20 later, Alain came in on a two-on-one rush and beat Scott with a wrist shot to put the Habs ahead for good.

Montreal would add onto its lead, however, with Ebbing and Bitten scoring their second goals of the night to make it 5-2.

McNiven made 34 saves and sealed the win for the Habs.

The pair of Kaskisuo and Scott stopped 22 of 27 shots in the loss.

“It’s the first game coming out of the summer, so you expect a lot of mistakes. We’ll focus on the positive things that came out of this game,” Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe, who heads Toronto’s minor league team, said of his team’s performance. “There was a ton of good things in the second period; a lot of teachable moments.”

Keefe announced that Middleton and fellow defender Eemeli Rasanen were dealing with upper and lower body injuries respectively, but did not give any insight into their statuses for the rest of the tournament.

Canadiens will be in action again Saturday against the Ottawa Senators. Leafs will face the Sens in the final game of the tournament on Sunday.