The Toronto Maple Leafs left the opening night of their 2019-20 season with a new captain and two points in hand.

Your game in ten:

1.  I put together a few thousand words on why John Tavares was the no-brainer choice for the Leafs’ captaincy — and I believe he was all along — over here. I won’t go into further detail, but I thought the organization perfectly handled the choice and the reveal — both behind the scenes with Tavares’ wife and baby, and the public announcement before the game — as well as their choices for the assistant captains.

2.  With the captaincy announcement elevating the hype surrounding puck drop, it took the Leafs a while to settle into this game. Nerves and over-excitement were present early, with multiple defensive-zone turnovers, a very early goal against (with Kasperi Kapanen caught running around the d-zone), and struggles to gain clean entries on the power play, where the Leafs stumbled early (0-for-3 in the first, although they hit two posts on one of them). The first period was largely low event at 5v5 and played at the Senators’ preferred pace.

The first period featured Frederik Andersen’s most important contributions of the night — he came up with a big save on Dylan DeMelo after a giveaway into the heart of the slot by Jake Muzzin from behind his own net, made a breakaway save on Colin White coming out of the box, and followed it up with another point-blank save on Anthony Duclair’s shorthanded chance to keep the score at 1-0.

3.  By the end of the second period, though, it was total Leafs domination, including a minute-and-a-half straight spent in the Senators zone near the end of the period. The overturned Ron Hainsey goal — a smart challenge by the Leafs’ video staff — followed by the Auston Matthews 3-2 goal was the turning point of the game halfway through the middle frame; that sequence seemed to break the Senators’ will.

It was a nice push from the Leafs’ bottom-six that got them back in control of the game before that. Like Babcock said in his presser, you expect Matthews — as well as Tavares, Marner, Nylander — to look good and to get some points in October games like these, but the fact the team started slowly and it was their third and fourth lines that were the catalyst was promising. There are some questions marks going into the season about the Leafs’ retooled bottom six, especially at center with Nazem Kadri traded and no clear outside solution brought in at 4C, but this was a solid start for both of those lines.

The Alex Kerfoot line was a +1 at 5v5 and a 65% CF. The fourth line finished even due to the Scott Sabourin goal, but that was more about Martin Marincin losing his stick and shutting off for a few seconds afterward than it was the line’s fault. Frederik Gauthier’s opening goal, with the big bodies of Nick Shore and the Goat battling away in front before Goat scored on his backside, was the quintessential fourth-line banger goal that no doubt had Babcock tickled pink on the bench.

4.  It’s not easy to go from a relative unknown in Mike Babcock’s books to playing 16+ minutes tonight — including on both sides of special teams — as Trevor Moore has inside just 26 career NHL games. He was quiet in the first period like much of the team, but he came to life in a big way in the second — he won a draw before parking himself in front of the net and banging home the 2-1 goal. He also set up Rasmus Sandin for a good look after an aggressive forecheck on the shift prior, and drew a penalty in this game as well. Moore is such a versatile and consistent middle-six player and he gives the Leafs a real shot in the arm on a game-to-game basis.

5. Auston Matthews’ swagger continues to reach new heights with each new season. There were a number of lost shifts in this game that we would’ve seen replayed on Sportscentre all year long had the puck ended up in the back of the net. On the play below, it’s jaw-dropping watching him go from contained on his backhand to opening up a prime shooting angle on his forehand in a flash with a brilliant turn on the puck:

https://twitter.com/LeafsNews/status/1179560641700519941I

Matthews was really effective digging out pucks on the forecheck and down low in the d-zone as well — all things that add up to playing on offense to the tune of 70% possession for his line.

We’ll need to give the power play some time to settle in before we evaluate the new setup and personnel, but Matthews getting one to go in game #1 on his one-time side is encouraging. What if he were to flip the switch on the power play goal scoring — which has lagged well behind his even-strength pace relative to the other top goal-scorers in the game — this year? Scary thought for the league.

6.  It’s hard to think of a worse situation for a young defenseman’s nerves than your team starting slow, falling behind 1-0, and a bunch of special teams time delaying your first NHL shift until over halfway through the opening period, forcing you to sit cold and anxious on the bench for the first 11 minutes. But it doesn’t really matter what you throw at Rasmus Sandin, he seems to take it all in stride.

He only played eight minutes and change, but he made the most of it, picking up an assist, moving the puck well, and making many clever little plays to get the team out of trouble. He nearly wristed one in creeping in off the point in the second period as well. He finished with a team-high 72% CF, albeit he started just one of his shifts in the defensive zone.

Sandin is nearly as good sending/receiving passes on his backhand as he is his forehand. You can see why they flirted with him on the right at times in preseason. When Travis Dermott comes back, assuming Sandin sticks around until then, it’ll be interesting to see which direction they go with on the left/right alignment.

7.  Unusually high-event hockey at both ends from Jake Muzzin from the preseason through to the regular-season opener; he’s been a little turnover prone in his own end and seems to have been on the ice for an unusually high number of goals against, including two of the three in this game. There were some moments that just can’t happen and he was fortunate to get away with, including the turnover into slot for the Dylan DeMelo scoring chance in the first, as well as a bad moment from the Muzzin – Barrie pairing halfway through the second where both were caught behind the net and Drake Batherson fired high while all alone in front.

Muzzin’s been quite active jumping up into the rush and has had some nice moments there, although he’s relied on to be the steady defensive conscience on his pairing. A tighter, more structured, postseason-style of hockey is when Muzzin shines best, but I’ll be curious to see how he settles in next to more of a free-wheeling partner than what he’s played with recently in Toronto (Zaitsev) and LA (Alec Martinez). Not worried in the grand scheme of things, though.

8.  I couldn’t have been the only one struck by deja vu watching a perfect low, flat saucer pass by Nylander finished off by Matthews at the back post on a 2v1 in a season opener versus Ottawa.

The two were finding each other all night; give and gos through the neutral zone, a Matthews bank stretch pass off the boards for a Nylander breakaway — it was all on display.

It looks to me like William Nylander officially has his swagger back. A really good game from him — a gorgeous assist, a breakaway, multiple grade-A looks, and a penalty drawn (after beating his man curling back off the half wall). He was skating really well throughout. It’s easy to forget that we never saw what this team looks like with both the Matthews – Nylander and Tavares – Marner duos going at the same time last season.

9. Good debuts from Ilya Mikheyev and Tyson Barrie. Barrie was breaking ankles, wheeling and dealing with the puck, set up the stage for the 1-1 Gauthier goal, and threaded a beautiful feed for Mikheyev’s first NHL goal after a spin-o-rama move to cut in off the point. He put six shots on goal, second on the team behind Matthews, in addition to his two assists.

Mikheyev earned plaudits after the game from Babcock for how well he kills penalties. He covers ice really well and uses his reach effectively there. He’s good at getting his stick into lanes and also had a nice moment breaking up a Senators power-play entry:

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His goal-scoring instincts were impressive on his goal as well — he read off of Barrie well, backpedaling across the zone into open ice at the back post while keeping his stick on the ice and his body open to the pass.

Between Shore, Gauthier, and Mikheyev, the Leafs suddenly have some size in their bottom six and they can all get around the rink well. It adds a welcome bit of diversity to the Leafs’ overall complexion upfront.

Cody Ceci carried over his simple but effective play from preseason as well; I’ll hold off on any final evaluation here, having seen him at his lowest points in Ottawa, but there is something to be said for how playing on a good team next to a quality partner can free you up to play totally within yourself.

10.  Overall, while it was a jittery first period, there was not much to complain about with this opening-night win — the Leafs dominated the possession game, put up five on the scoresheet, kept a clean sheet on the PK, and broke through on the PP (though it remains a work in progress). Don’t underestimate the fact that the Leafs got all three of their rookies (Timashov, Sandin, Mikheyev) in the points column right off the bat as well — it’s a relief for a young player knowing he won’t be gripping the stick and wondering when/if the first point is coming.


5v5 Game Flow: Leafs 5 vs. Senators 3

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Ottawa Senators


Mike Babcock Post Game: Leafs 5 vs. Senators 3


Game Highlights: Leafs 5 vs. Senators 3