The Maple Leafs open with a win over the Canadiens and a hint of what the new guys can offer
|Toronto Star 13 Jan 2021 at 22:14|
On a night of debuts, it was the returning guys — Morgan Rielly, John Tavares and William Nylander — who outshone the new guys.
Rielly scored with 1:36 left in overtime, on a feed from Tavares, and the Maple Leafs beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-4 for early bragging rights after the first of 10 head-to-head games against their Original Six rivals this season.
Nylander had two goals and an assist, John Tavares added a goal and two assists and Jimmy Vesey got the debut he was looking for with a tying goal in the third. That line dominated when they were together.
The teams indeed looked like they hadn’t played in a while. Passes didn’t always go where they were supposed to. Line changes weren’t smooth. But that more or less aided the excitement level, which is already high when these teams meet.
Josh Anderson scored twice in his first game as a Hab, rookie Alex Romanov had two assists and the young Canadiens played like the formerly young Leafs used to — using speed and skill to create plays and draw penalties and make the other team pay for taking a shift, or a play or a period for granted.
Such was the case against Montreal, who were holding a nice two-goal lead toward the end of the second period. The Leafs looked out of sorts. The new guys were searching for their chemistry.
Nylander scored. Then came more Montreal penalties, back-to-back and 1:57 of five-on-three. And those power-play changes featuring Joe Thornton and Wayne Simmonds on the first unit went out the window. Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe needed offence. And he got it, throwing that core together.
Tavares’s power-play goal tied the game to head into the third period.
Thornton did his bit, but didn’t break the game open.
T.J. Brodie certainly looked at home with Rielly, keeping plays alive in the offensive zone and being quite reliable defensively.
Simmonds missed an empty net in the first period, but did win a fight with Ben Chiarot that the decidedly biased canned-crowd noise enjoyed.
Zach Bogosian probably had better debuts in his other four NHL cities. He took two penalties and one led to a Montreal goal. And they were for hooking and holding, the kind that indicate he couldn’t keep up with the play.
Vesey was also the culprit on a too-many-men call, touching the puck while himself leaving the ice. That, too, led to a goal. But he scored to tie the game at 10:33 of the third, beneficiary of a lucky bounce off an official.
As for Alex Barabanov, well, he wasn’t even the best Russian rookie named Alex on the ice. That was Montreal’s Romanov.
The players were introduced by a cultural cross-section of society, from a dairy farmer (who introduced Thornton), to front-line workers such as doctors and nurses, teachers, TTC drivers, delivery personnel and meat packers. Mental health advocates, children, Toronto police, firefighters and the armed forces were also included.
The team also praised front-line workers in a video tribute before puck drop, with both teams on the ice.
“I did have a little moment there — skating around in the morning skate before we got going, and you’re looking at the tarps that are covering the seats,” said Keefe. “Just another reminder that our fans aren’t going to be with us here, and that’s tough. You start to think about the fact that our fans aren’t going to get a chance to welcome our new players here in our home opener. That, to me, is always a cool moment. Those are all the kind of things that everybody’s adapting to. We’re grateful that we have an opportunity to entertain people here this season.”