Knee jerk reactions to the Maple Leafs’ home opener win
Photo credit:Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
By Alex Hobson1 month ago
If you’re a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, you desperately wanted a win over the Montreal Canadiens to open up the season. If you’re a Maple Leafs fan AND a Toronto Blue Jays fan, chances are you just wanted to see an entertaining game, with a win being a metaphorical cherry on top.
If the Maple Leafs did anything last night, they treated their fans to an exciting home opener. There was everything – a hat trick, a fight, a comeback, and eventually, two points in the win column as they took game 1 of 82 by a score of 6-5 in a shootout.
There were no shortage of storylines heading into the game. How would Tyler Bertuzzi look on the top line? Would Fraser Minten be able to hold his own? What kind of an impact would Ryan Reaves actually have? There are a ton of places we could start, but first and foremost we should start with something that doesn’t involve any of the players.
Hall & Oates No More
After years of the sweet tunes of Hall & Oates accompanying every Leafs goal, the organization made the decision to switch things up this season. From what it sounds like, they will have a generic home goal song, one to use against original six teams (with the exception of last night), and one to use during next generation games. It seems like against original six teams, the goal song will be a classic rock tune from that era, and while nothing is confirmed, I feel like it’s inevitable that the Next Gen goal song is something by either Justin Bieber or Drake.
Individual Defense Bad, Team Defense Good
Anyway, back to the game. It’s easy to look at the fact that the team allowed five goals on 22 shots and assume they didn’t play well defensively. And, while it was far from a perfect defensive effort, three of the five goals they allowed came from player-specific blunders. T.J. Brodie tripped over his own feet at the opposing blueline to allow the first goal. On the third goal, he got his stick in the way of a point shot and deflected it past Samsonov. On the fifth goal, Timothy Liljegren fanned on a breakout pass and gave it away.
So no, they didn’t have a great game defensively, but the goals against largely fell back on the fact that Samsonov couldn’t bail them out.
Klingberg Offers a Glimpse Into the Good
Speaking of defencemen, new signing John Klingberg gave fans a glimpse into what to expect from him at his best. He tallied two primary assists in his debut for the Leafs, and two fine assists, I might add. He found Noah Gregor wide open along the boards to spring him for the Leafs’ first goal of the game, and assisted on William Nylander’s power play tally later on as well.
While the points are great, his presence on that aforementioned power play alone will make him worth the money he’s making if he can keep it up. With all due respect to Morgan Rielly, Klingberg is better at finding the net on the power play, and despite his poor results in 2022-23, I think it’s reasonable to believe he’ll have some more success dishing the puck to Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner instead of whoever was on the Anaheim Ducks’ second power play unit.
A Snotty Effort to Start the Season
Remember all offseason how Brad Treliving kept emphasizing the need for “snot”? There was plenty of it last night. Skating on the fourth line with Gregor and David Kampf, Ryan Reaves made his impact early in the game. He laid a couple of massive hits on the Canadiens, and it spiraled into the heavyweight tilt we were all hoping for – Reaves against Arber Xhekaj. The latter ended up getting the better of his opponent, largely thanks to the net falling over, but it got the fans fired up.
What really made me optimistic, however, was a play later in the game. Tyler Bertuzzi took a couple of shoves after poking at the goaltender after the whistle and decided to fight back. Everyone expected Bertuzzi to be a bit of a rat to play against, but the real inspiring part came when Matthews and Marner instantly jumped into the scrum to defend their teammate.
This is something Leafs fans have been clamouring, and I mean CLAMOURING for throughout basically the entire Matthews era. When we hear about the Leafs needing toughness, it’s not a need for one guy to drop the gloves every night like Colton Orr. It’s a mentality thing. We’ve seen this core group of players get pushed around in the past, and while taking the bait and fighting back isn’t always the smart thing to do, the fact that they had the confidence to jump in there is already a step forward from last season.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Bertuzzi’s involvement in the scrum did lead to a slashing penalty, which in turn led to two quick goals that gave Montreal the lead early in the third period. But, if your first thought is to look at that penalty and say he shouldn’t have done it, you’re missing the point. Sure, he may have tossed some momentum back Montreal’s way. But it wasn’t just about that one specific play. It’s about the willingness to defend yourself in general, and this is a quality that will help the Maple Leafs not just throughout this season, but into the playoffs as well.
Between Bertuzzi, Domi, and Reaves, their personalities and willingness to drag their teammates into the fight is why they were brought to Toronto, and while one game doesn’t define a season, it certainly made for a promising start.
Matthews Scores a Hat Trick, Sets a Couple of Milestones
Oh, yeah, I guess we should touch on Matthews. Then again, what is there to say that hasn’t been said a thousand times already? His 40-goal performance was a down year by his standards, and assuming his nagging wrist issue from last year is a story of the past, he should be on track to perform at a level that’s a little closer to his 60-goal season two years ago. Not only was it his second hat trick in a season opener, his first goal made him the fifth Leaf in history to score 300 goals, and his hat trick gave him sole possession of most goals scored in season openers by a Leaf, surpassing Babe Dye.
Overall, it was an entertaining game if nothing else, and one that produced more positive signs than negative, regardless of the final score. The Leafs will be back in action on Saturday night to face the Minnesota Wild at home.
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