The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens staged an exciting and sloppy contest in the 2021 season opener on Wednesday, with the Leafs core group carrying most of the load in a 5-4 overtime victory at Scotiabank Arena, but the group of new additions to the club did have an effect and contributed to the win.
William Nylander and John Tavares each had three points, the Toronto power play tallied twice late in the second period to erase a 3-1 Montreal lead, Morgan Rielly scored the winner with 1:36 in the extra frame converting on a setup from Tavares on an odd-man break and Frederik Andersen appeared rusty at times, but made a key stop in overtime and 28 saves on the night for his first victory of the season.
“It's the first game of the season here, first time playing a game at that tempo. We just had a pretty emotional comeback win here for our first so I'm not going to get too nitpicky. We'll get better everyday.” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said after the game.
The focus for observers were six newcomers in the Toronto lineup and how the faired in their Blue and White debut. TJ Brodie had a solid but unspectacular night paired with Morgan Rielly, playing just over 22 minutes and seeing time on both special teams. Joe Thornton played 17:30 and most of the contest on the left side with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, but Keefe subbed in Zach Hyman for the occasional shift to give the 41-year-old a breather.
“I thought when (Joe) got the puck he put it in good spots, he made a play with it, he was around the net at different times. He came up with a couple of pucks on the forecheck.” Keefe said after the game. “He looked like he had legs even through the third period. I was watching him, he had some really good tracks and returns back into our own end to have lots of legs and energy despite playing a lot the way the game went.”
Alexander Barabanov had the least opportunity of any Leaf, playing just eight shifts and a team-low 5:27 in the game, while Zach Bogosian put forth the worst performance on the night, taking a pair of careless minor penalties in just under 11 minutes on the bottom pairing.
The most impactful moment of the game according to many of the players after the game was Wayne Simmonds dropping the gloves with Habs defenseman Ban Chiarot. Toronto was trailing 3-1 after Tomas Tatar’s breakaway goal on the man advantage and the bout seemed to energize a Leafs squad that was lethargic through the first half of the game.
“That's what Wayne brings to this group. He's been doing that in his career for a long time. It's incredibly valuable. He brings a whole lot of
aspects (and) great things to our team.” Rielly said after the game. “He's incredibly valuable to this team and we're very, very lucky to have him. He's hard to play against so it's nice to have him on our side for once. I think tonight was the perfect example of him taking it upon himself to get the team going and that's exactly what happened.”
The club practiced on Thursday and departed for Ottawa for a pair of road games against the Senators on Friday and Saturday. Keefe indicated that the five players on the taxi squad will travel with the team, but that he does not expect to make any lineup changes for the first match against the Senators.
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