An exciting game of river hockey was disrupted early in the third period when one of the Montreal Canadiens new additions, George Parros, was injured when he was pulled face-first into the ice during a fight. That’s unfortunately going to be the lasting image of a game that was entertaining in all other aspects.
The Maple Leafs’ special teams unit came alive, scoring a powerplay and a shorthanded goal, but it was Mason Raymond’s first as a Leaf on an odd-man rush that stood as the game-winner after a furious rally by the Canadiens in the opener. Just like last season, the Maple Leafs take the first game of the season at le Centre Bell with a 4-3 win.
The Leafs picked up where they were against Boston in the latter half of last year’s playoffs, playing a great puck-possession game through the first 20 minutes. Despite the major offseason additions David Clarkson and David Bolland (although Clarkson wasn’t playing) lacking in speed compared to the guys they let go, there was no shortage of quickness in the Leafs lineup in the early going. Raymond looked very strong, Nazem Kadri hadn’t lost a beat and James van Riemsdyk set a standard for the type of game he needs to have 40-50 times this season if the Leafs are going to contend for the division title.
Toronto struck first on a 5-on-3 powerplay, with van Riemsdyk attempting a pass across the crease, or a jam play, who knows, and the puck wound up sneaking through Carey Price’s legs.
After two quick goals by the Habs, from Lars Eller and from Brendan Gallagher, the Leafs went into the break down 2-1 but looking like the better squad if you factored in the special teams. Dion Phaneuf tied it early in the second off a gorgeous play set up by Kadri, and the Leafs would later take the lead on a shorthanded tally by Tyler Bozak.
Mason Raymond would provide the insurance goal at the start of the third, after Parros had been taken off the ice on a stretcher:
Eller struck again late, but the Habs only got a couple of shots off after that, the most dangerous one a wrist shot from Subban that Reimer got a piece of and it deflected wide. There was to be no comeback against these Leafs.
WHY THE LEAFS WON
Some smart ass is going to point out to me that the Leafs won despite being out-shot 31-24 at even strength. Toronto also got 11 shots on the man advantage, and overall, they out-shot Montreal 38-36.
The main reason why Toronto took control of this game was a combination of undisciplined play by the Habs as well as the Leafs penalty-drawing proficiency. It’s a highly underrated skill in the NHL, but the two best Leafs at drawing calls, Nazem Kadri and Joffrey Lupul, drew a combined 10 penalty minutes. Drawing penalties doesn’t just have the effect of giving your team a chance to score, but it helps out on the defensive side.
The Leafs also did well gaining control of the zone in possession of the puck, notably victimizing Josh Gorges and rookie Jerred Tinordi often and keeping the puck away from P.K. Subban as they tried to get into the offensive zone. Randy Carlyle talked earlier in the day about generating more puck possession, and strategically, they kept it away from the Habs’ best defenceman.
Above I mentioned that Raymond injected some speed into the lineup, but another player playing his first as a Leaf, Troy Bodie, was equally impressive. It will be fun to check his puck-possession differentials in this one, but he was often first into the zone hustling after loose pucks and made a couple of real nice neutral zone plays as well. An excellent first appearance from the son-in-law, making the most of the Clarkson suspension.
- A very high-event game with close to 40 shots on goal for both teams. Having had to sit through a lot of games where Randy Carlyle had the lead last year… this was a welcome change.
- van Riemsdyk was excellent. He had six shots on goal and four controlled entries into the zone. Have to think he also benefits from Phil Kessel being one of the best players recorded at maintaining possession. I have Kessel listed at five controlled entries at even strength, which led the Leafs, but is a step down from his normal output.
- Glenn Healy mentioned early on that Kessel was a minus-2. Piss on Glenn Healy.
- Strong night from Bozak. He made a couple of awkward plays in the defensive zone, but he’d have a lot of value if he made about half of what he makes and played on the third line. He had five shots, but wasn’t as active in the neutral zone. Remains a good penalty killer.
- Last year the Leafs allowed 41.8 shots against per 60 minuteswhen killing penalties 4-on-5. In 6:45 of 4-on-5 time, the Leafs allowed just 4 shots, or 35.6 per 60 minutes. Conversely, they took 58.2 shots per 60 in this game with the man advantage. The special teams got off to a great, great start.
- If your pool is drafting late, Lars Eller ain’t going to be a sleeper anymore. I think I tried to warn you.
- The goalies played pretty well. James Reimer starts off his season with a .917 performance, a quality start, although he was just .906 at evens because Eller’s second came just as the Habs penalty expired.
- Carey Price did not get a quality start. Poor Carey.