On the opening night of the 2019-20 season, the Leafs took on the Ottawa Senators in an Atlantic Division clash to start things off on a spirited, intense note. This being the team that gifted us the “hit ’em with the 4” debut for Auston Matthews on the opening night of the 2016-17 season, there was lots to look forward to in this contest.
The Leafs won the game 5-3, after starting the game down 1-0 and looking a little bit rusty. The scoring guns definitely started firing as the game went on though, and the Leafs were able to come away with a solid win at home.
Here are some thoughts from tonight’s win.
1) John Tavares is the Captain
Immediately before the start of the game, as the Leafs were introducing the entire roster, they also introduced John Tavares as the Captain of the team. It was rumoured ahead of time, but nothing was official until the arena announcer called out #91 as the 25th captain in Maple Leafs history.
The captaincy was vacant for over 3 years after Dion Phaneuf was traded to these very Ottawa Senators, after serving as the Leafs’ captain for just under 7 seasons.
2) Debuts, Des Buts
In his first game as a Toronto Maple Leaf, Ilya Mikheyev kicked off an NHL career with a sweet one-timed goal, off an incredible feed from another debutant for the Maple Leafs, Tyson Barrie. Mikheyev also had an assist later in the game for an impressive kickoff to this year’s campaign.
Ilya Mikheyev! What a play by Barrie. 5-2 Leafs. pic.twitter.com/AQnRmpfPxA
— Flintor (@TheFlintor) October 3, 2019
Barrie also added to his stellar debut with an assist on the first goal of the year and only the seventh in his NHL career for Frederik Gauthier. It was really a coming out party for the offensive defenseman, showing why the Leafs made the trade to acquire him this offseason.
— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) October 3, 2019
Other rookie debut successes included the Swedes Dmytro Timashov and Rasmus Sandin each getting an assist on the first game since cracking the NHL lineups for the first time.
3) Rocky Starts Haven’t Disappeared
For seemingly forever, the Leafs have been plagued by an inability to show up to the game at full tilt. They often allow early goals against, and rely on their offensive strengths (and being positively affected by score effects). This time it obviously worked out, but something has to change to get the Leafs to actually play at the pace we know their capable of to start the game.
Last season, Toronto’s situational scoring and shooting clearly favoured the latter halves of games, as shown by Hockey Reference:
Scoring By Period
Shots By Period
4) The Powerplay is Dangerously Effective Again
The Leafs had a slew of powerplay opportunities in the early-goings of the game, and while they were only able to convert on one of the 5 chances in the game, they hit a few posts in the preliminary opportunities with the advantage, and did eventually convert the one by Auston Matthews, on a great pass from Marner:
Matthews had a second goal tonight as well earlier in the game at even strength, on a great pass from William Nylander:
5) Curse of the Former Leafs Strikes Again… Almost
Former Leafs have always had this superstitiously terrifying ability to wreak havoc in their opportunities against the team they once played for. In tonight’s game, the Leafs’ chances in this game could have been significantly diminished had this great shot by Ron Hainsey counted:
We have our first Coach's Challenge of the season!
Babcock challenges Hainsey's goal as an offside play. After view review, Babcock wins his first challenge of the season. Last season, he challenged just one goal as offside, but lost. pic.twitter.com/zBzw3HkHI7
— Behind The Benches (@BenchBosses) October 3, 2019
Hainsey obviously wasn’t the only former Leaf on the Senators tonight, with Nikita Zaitsev, Tyler Ennis, Connor Brown all suited up for Ottawa, and former Leafs assistant coach DJ Smith was the bench boss for the team as well. While the trade secrets they kept might have helped, the effort and skill level wasn’t there to execute and get the win.
Toronto’s next game is Friday (weird) in Columbus at 7 pm Eastern time.