Auston Matthews makes history, Maple Leafs take a loser point out of Ottawa in 2016-17 season opener

Anything noteworthy happen last night, fellas?

The first game aligned with what most Leafs fans were anticipating entering the new season, although it was taken to an extreme degree – Auston Matthews is a freak talent ready to take the league by storm, all of the young talent is going to make this club more skilled and exciting to watch than any Leaf team we’ve seen in far too many years, and the defense is going to be an ongoing work-in-progress.

The simplistic one-sentence synopsis of the game: The Leafs out-chanced, out-possessed and out-shot the Ottawa Senators throughout the majority of the sixty minutes, but they lost the battle of the Anderso(e)ns in net and couldn’t make hay on a flurry of powerplay opportunities in the second period.

Here’s Mike Babcock’s post-game assessment:

I thought, just for me from my perspective, since I’ve been Leafs coach that’s the best night I’ve had since I’ve been here by ten miles. Not even close, because now we have an opportunity when you look at Marner… I thought Marner – I know Matthews scored all the goals – in the first half of the game might have been the best player. I thought Nylander was great. I thought Hyman was great. I thought Brown was great. I thought Carrick was great. I thought Zaitsev was great. A pretty good night for us. Do we want the other point? Absolutely. The way we controlled the puck and controlled the game — you’ve got to win and we didn’t.

First of all, Babcock is really excited about having significant skill on his team after a year without it. Second, you don’t have to spend too much time reading between the lines to know that he wasn’t impressed with the effort from some his veterans in this game.

There was no mistaking the problem areas tonight — a few of the team’s important veteran players, the goaltending, and the powerplay all need to be better moving forward.

Player Notes

Mitch Marner – Hit the ground running with a magic first shift, hunting down loose pucks, driving play, playing with urgency offensively and defensively. Extrapolated, his play actually started the shift in the offensive zone leading to the first Matthews goal. If you had to bet on a Leaf rookie having a four-goal game after the first eight or nine minutes of the game, it probably would have been Marner. He had a bunch of chances throughout his 17:36 of ice time, including a breakaway, a partial breakaway, a cross bar, and a few near-misses on cross-crease connections. At one point there was a Sens odd-man chance developing after a turnover in the Sens zone with men caught deep, and Marner got on his bike, pickpocketed the puck and turned it into a grade A scoring chance for the Leafs. He drove his line, which says a lot about Marner’s performance and also something about the efforts of JVR and Bozak, which were not good enough in this game. With last change for the Sens, Marner’s line saw a fair bit of time against the Senators’ top line of Hoffman, Turris and Stone (over five minutes out of 13 played at even strength), and primarily matched up against the Ceci and Phaneuf defence pairing. Marner managed 57% possession over those 13 even strength minutes and put six shots on goal in his 17:36 of total ice time. No limit to where he could go as he figures out the league and adds that bit of extra strength on the puck.

Auston Matthews – Elite players go entire careers without a night this productive and Matthews did it on his first go around in the NHL. It’s not supposed to be possible. It’s hard to wrap the mind around what we just witnessed. He scored his first shifting toward the back post to open up for a pass from behind the net after a good effort from Nylander and Hyman behind the goal line. He manufactured a stunning one-man effort on his second goal eight minutes later, pulling the puck through two sets of legs (Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman), chipping it in, lifting it off the best puck-handling defenceman in the league, and sneaking a shot between the legs of Craig Anderson. A minute and a half into the second period, he found the quiet ice, opened up for a beautiful Morgan Rielly pass and finished clinically to complete a hat trick inside the first half-hour of his NHL career – something only five players in NHL history have ever managed to do on debut. The night had already reached a point beyond anyone’s wildest imagination before Matthews answered Twitter’s Fabian Brunnstrom jokes by adding a fourth goal on a gorgeous 2-on-1 play with William Nylander. The reaction in the building was one of bewildered amazement mixed with pure elation on the part of the Leafs fans in attendance. Not even the end result tempered the Aus-ton Math-hews chants from Leafs fans on the way out of the Canadian Tire Centre. This was a special night, the likes of which we’ve literally never seen before. Soak it in, Leafs fans everywhere.

Frederik Andersen – With five goals against on 30 shots, it’s easy to be harsh about Andersen’s performance on a special night worthy of a Leaf win. He never looked all that comfortable or confident in the net – even when he made saves, he was sometimes looking back to make sure the puck didn’t get through him. Unfortunately, he didn’t get any luck early on, which didn’t help matters coming off of an abbreviated preseason. The first goal of the game was a tough play – while a goalie has to be able to fight to see pucks through traffic, Jake Gardiner did a particularly poor job of boxing out Bobby Ryan (as in he didn’t at all and conceded the space entirely) in front, allowing Ryan to stand right on top of his netminder. Andersen made the initial save even though he couldn’t properly challenge the shooter and had no sight line on the Karlsson shot, but it’s hard to hold onto the rebound on a shot you can’t see. The second goal was a seeing-eye shot that took a deflection off of JVR, bounced off the ice, and found the top corner. His night turned a little ugly after the Derick Brassard goal late in the second. Martin Marincin didn’t defend Brassard well, but Andersen shouldn’t be getting beat through the fivehole from that angle. The 4-4 goal wasn’t much better. Babcock didn’t mince words about Andersen’s performance not being good enough, but added that goaltending is the least of his worries out of the three positions on the roster. He’s owed some adjustment time, but the paranoia around goaltenders in this market is easy to understand.

Nazem Kadri – He’s now officially in the role of a shutdown center for this team at 5v5, playing with two defensively-responsible veterans and helping to shelter the younger lines. He started just two shifts in the offensive zone, and played up against the Hoffman, Stone and Turris line as much as Babcock could manage with first change. A 75% possession share at the end of the night, especially considering those conditions, is a job well done. He made a few key sprawling defensive efforts where he read the play well and sussed out the danger. Babcock even mixed in a minute of penalty killing time for him. It will be a challenge to produce at the level Kadri expects of himself with his line situation and deployment, but he will still get his powerplay time – 4:26 on the man advantage was tops on the team in the season opener. Great night on the faceoff dot with a 69%.

Matt Martin – It was surprising that Martin didn’t go straight after Chris Neil following his massive hit on Matt Hunwick considering Martin was on the ice at the time. He was only able to muster up coincidental minors with Neil on a faceoff before later fighting Mark Borowiecki. It’s not unexpected that he would hold Holland and Brown back a little in the skilled areas of the game, but his finishing of checks did stand out on a forward group that didn’t look to initiate much in the way of physical contact – only Martin, Komarov and van Riemsdyk were credited with any hits in this game among the 12 forwards

Tyler Bozak – Shot out of a cannon with JVR and Marner on the first shift, but slowly lost contact with his game; he was trying to play fancy alongside Marner with some between the legs and 360 passes. It’s just not his game; he should be dishing off and driving the lane. Like JVR, he faded as the game wore on. Must be harder on pucks next time out and improve on the draw, where he went 47%.

James van Riemsdyk – After a great first shift – showed some desperation, and had a grade A scoring chance blocked in the middle of the slot — his game slowly unravelled. If wasn’t for Marner driving the bus on their line…  Pretty pedestrian game from JVR and Bozak.

William Nylander – Played a key role in the history-making tonight with two nice assists on Matthews goals, including the gorgeous saucer pass for Matthews’ fourth of the night. Kept pucks alive, fast on the forecheck hurrying the defence, and his usual sneaky-self stripping opponents. He took the right-side faceoffs on his line and went 50% on the night.

Zach Hyman – Made all sorts of good things happen for Matthews and Nylander all night long. Quick to loose pucks, great on the forecheck, and tenacious pressuring D to D passes in the neutral zone. His 83% share of the shot attempts when on the ice was second to only Milan Michalek on the Leafs.

Morgan Rielly – Curiously, he was not used at all on the powerplay, where the team could use his smarts, puck rushing skill on zone entries, and ability to walk the line and get shots through, even if his shot is not his biggest strength. He played big minutes in all other situations – 25+ minutes, with the early Hunwick injury adding more onto his plate. He managed to create at even strength with a primary assist off the rush – a perfect feed to the back post for Matthews to finish off. He was a 41.67CF% player with Marincin in this game and a 63.63% without. Without any other good alternatives, it looks like Zaitsev is going to be the best option to play with Rielly to start the season.

Jake Gardiner – Left a lot to be desired on the first Bobby Ryan goal, failing to tie Ryan up or use leg positioning to box him out. He picked up a second assist clearing off the glass into the neutral zone, which was picked up by Matthews, passed to Nylander, and back to Matthews for his fourth goal. Partnered with Connor Carrick at even strength, the pair managed a sparkling 83.33 CF% together.

Nikita Zaitsev – Moved up the lineup following the Hunwick injury and ended up playing with every defenceman on the team when the Leafs were down to 5D. He played the most with Morgan Rielly (8:28) and looked his most comfortable there. He’s calm and clever managing the puck, and he was undeterred by forecheckers closing down with more speed on the smaller ice. He even played with a bit of jam. Good first outing for the 24-year-old rookie.

Martin Marincin – It’s just one game, but this was a less than stellar performance — he looked consistently overmatched. He was on for three goals against and took some responsibility for two of them. As the Leafs move along, they’ll need to find a proper partner for Morgan Rielly to help stem the bleeding in some of these games. That’s not to say Marincin couldn’t bring value when properly slotted. 

Game In Six

Shot Attempts – All Situations

Game 1: Leafs vs Senators Corsi

Shot Location Chart

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Ottawa Senators

Possession Stats - Leafs vs. Sens - October 12

NameCorsi ForCorsi AgainstCorsiCorsi For%Zone Start%
CONNOR CARRICK29111872.50%75%
ZACH HYMAN2451982.76%57.14%
CONNOR BROWN1315-246.43%36.36%
MATT MARTIN1012-245.45%25%
MITCHELL MARNER1612457.14%71.43%
JAMES VAN RIEMSDYK1511457.69%71.43%
NIKITA ZAITSEV25121367.57%53.33%
PETER HOLLAND1211152.17%40%
WILLIAM NYLANDER2471777.42%58.33%
FREDERIK ANDERSEN68363265.38%52.94%
AUSTON MATTHEWS2481675%58.33%
TYLER BOZAK1511457.69%71.43%
NAZEM KADRI1861275%40%
MORGAN RIELLY2619757.78%52.94%
LEO KOMAROV1971273.08%40%
JAKE GARDINER27121569.23%50%
MARTIN MARINCIN2416860%36.36%

Game Sheet - Leafs vs. Senators - October 12, 2016

M. Michalek12:4100-13:410:0010/00
M. Hunwick2:110000:000:0000/00
M. Martin10:4100-10:020:5110/17
J. van Riemsdyk17:2500-24:170:0030/00
N. Kadri17:1700-14:260:5400/40
P. Holland11:3600-10:020:4210/60
T. Bozak16:5700-24:110:2510/90
Z. Hyman14:390140:002:1400/10
M. Marincin20:0000-20:023:0030/00
J. Gardiner21:4101-13:471:0020/00
M. Rielly25:45:000120:112:5420/00
L. Komarov17:3200-13:291:5120/00
F. Andersen60:37:000008:004:0000/00
C. Carrick18:540010:001:0640/00
C. Brown12:5300-10:021:0300/02
W. Nylander16:290233:410:0030/42
M. Marner17:3600-24:170:0060/00
N. Zaitsev23:5700-14:110:0030/00
A. Matthews17:374033:410:0060/70
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Alec Brownscombe is the founder and editor of, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He's published five magazines on the team entitled "The Maple Leafs Annual" with distribution in Chapters and newsstands across the country. He also co-hosted "The Battle of the Atlantic," a weekly show on TSN1200 that covered the Leafs and the NHL in-depth. Alec is a graduate of Trent University and Algonquin College with his diploma in Journalism. In 2014, he was awarded Canada's Best Hockey Blogger honours by Molson Canadian. You can contact him at