Leafs gain comfort in second round of World Cup Exhibitions

Photo Credit: Eric Bolte/USA TODAY SPORTS

The World Cup of Hockey’s run of pre-tournament exhibition games continued this weekend, with all eight teams re-convening with their first opponents to play another match in another venue. This time around, a glanced-over Leaf squeaks into the lineup, another falls out, and the rest of the crew plays some quality hockey.

Finland (3) @ Sweden (6)

This wasn’t as eventful for Leafs observers as the previous game between the two sites, mostly because Jhonas Enroth wasn’t allowed anywhere near the Swedish net this time around. Leo Komarov did get another game in, though, to nobody’s surprise; he played over four minutes of his 14:54 of ice time on the powerplay, threw a hit, blocked a shot, took a shot, and took a boarding penalty.

Russia (1) @ Czech Republic (2) SO

Nikita Zaitsev saw a slight spike in ice time in this one, moving up to 20:06 while remaining on a pair with Dimitri Orlov. Even more so than in the previous game, Zaitsev seemed to be the better of the two; impressive given the coming out party that the 25-year-old Orlov had with the Washington Capitals last season. Zaitsev was especially responsible for carrying pucks out of the defensive zone with control, making possession changes into more useful commodities for his country.

Zaitsev had some issue getting his attempted shots through the lane and towards Michael Neuvirth but contributed a hit and two blocked shots. He was Russia’s go-to defenceman to start 3-on-3 overtime as well.

On the other bench, Milan Michalek was held off the scoresheet, but took three shots on goal, threw two hits, blocked a shot, and took a roughing and unsportsmanlike penalty for getting a few shots in on Montreal Canadien’s defenceman Alexei Emelin. Zaitsev had a mini-dust up of his own with Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak, proving that these new(ish) Leafs don’t really need an acclimation period to hate their rivals.

Roman Polak, interestingly, was the scoring superstar of the bunch, int he sense that he had a secondary assist on Tomas Plekanec’s last-minute equalizer. The helper went with five hits and thres shots blocked over the span of 15:12 of ice time.

United States (2) @ Canada (5)

James van Riemsdyk found himself out the lineup in the first exhibition game, but the United States decided to bring him back in for the rubber match in Ottawa. He played on a line with Derek Stepan and Blake Wheeler and had a single shot on goal, to go with a blocked shot, a faceoff win (weird, I know), and a puck-over-glass penalty.

Mike Babcock’s Canadians ultimately won the day, though, replicating the score of the 2002 Gold Medal game while outshooting the Americans 38-23.

Europe (4) @ North America (7)

Auston Matthews played just 15:42 tonight, but when he was on the ice, he made his presence known, setting up Aaron Ekblad for the game’s first goal:

Morgan Rielly was quick to trail behind him on the scoresheet, (perhaps unintentionally) sniping a long-bomb just five minutes later:

Neither contributed any further on the scoresheet, and Rielly had a couple of iffy moments playing in his own end, but the two definitely showed why they’re a big part of this team moving forward. Matthews Finished the night -1 and only had a single shot in 15:42 of ice time, but was a delight to watch with the puck on his stick throughout while playing on a line with Brandon Saad and Mark Scheifele. Rielly played 19:31 with Ekblad and was a +1 with three shots, a hit, a blocked shot, and two giveaways.

But just watch Auston again. This kid’s gonna be something decent, and soon.

The next set and final set of pre-tournament games come Tuesday (Finland/USA) and Wednesday (Czech Republic/North America, Sweden/Europe, Russia/Canada) before the festivities begin on Saturday afternoon.