Leafs hockey is back, baby.

1.  This was an opener that had a bit of everything going on; nine goals total, multiple deficits overcome by the Leafs — 1-0, 3-1 down, 4-3 down — a message-sending fight by Wayne Simmonds in his debut, budding hatred (Simmonds, Chariot, Anderson, even Matthews — breaking his stick on Chariot — and Weber all got heated). There were lots of power plays both ways in the first 40 minutes, followed by a progressively sloppy track meet in the third, followed by 3-on-3 OT at its wildest and sloppiest. Couldn’t have asked for a more entertaining first night back.

2.  Feels ungrateful to be anything but positive and upbeat about the return of hockey, so apologies for the brief downer note: Sorely missed the SBA reactions to the Thornton introduction, the Simmonds introduction (and fight), and the comeback efforts. Soon, we can only hope.

3.  You can debate if the fight played a direct role in the comeback, but I don’t think you can dispute that this was a needed aspect of improving team culture: a Leaf who, sensing a game might be getting away, plants himself hard in front of the opposition net, draws the fight, ends the fight with a few bombs, and sends a message directly to the bench that we don’t roll over and go quietly into the night, especially not in a home opener.

After a slow start to the game, Wayne Simmonds got his footing and established more of a presence on the forecheck in the second period as well. He really should’ve buried his first as a Leaf on an empty net chance off a scramble in front.

4.  Not sure what the expectation could reasonably be as far as preparation and structure in such a unique set of circumstances, but the Leafs weren’t the more prepared team through 35 minutes, to be sure. A flurry of penalties, including a too-many-men call, multiple breakaways against on a single second-period PK — one off a horrendous line change (by Jake Muzzin in particular) for the 3-1 Tomas Tatar goal — and some poor sort-outs off lost defensive zone draws, on top of the wide-open neutral zone, the execution wasn’t what you would call sharp.

Keefe after the game: “First game at that tempo, it was an emotional comeback win… I’m not going to be nitpicky. We’ll look to get better every day.” Fair enough for now.

5.  Those paid to be the difference makers were the difference-makers for the Leafs, as their game-breakers up front took over in the final 30 minutes — specifically Tavares (1g,  2a), Nylander (2g, 1a), and Matthews (1a, 7 SOG). Starting with the captain, getting beat by Josh Anderson while covering for a Zach Bogosian pinch aside, John Tavares got the ball rolling for the Leafs with a faceoff win and goalie screen for the 1-1 Nylander goal. He was really determined at the net-front all game, including for his 3-3 tying goal on the doorstep on the power play, he finished checks, made good decisions with the puck throughout the night, and his skating legs looked refreshed. I’ve been betting on a Tavares bounce-back year this season — great start in that regard.

6.  Lots of cement legs and doubled over players late on, but Auston Matthews looked like he could’ve played another 10 min TOI. Don’t think 18 minutes through two periods is exactly where you want him every night, but his conditioning (down 10 pounds) looks excellent on top of everything else about his game. Saw some talk out there — including on the broadcast tonight — that Phil Danault has an ability to keep a lid on Matthews; Matthews owned 77% of the possession in that matchup.

7.  For those who don’t remember the kind of goal-scoring form William Nylander was in last season after his just-okay first 15 games: He now has 30 goals in his last 54 regular-season appearances — that’s good for seventh in NHL goal-scoring since the start of November 2019, ahead of Draisaitl, McDavid, and MacKinnon in that department. The heads-up patience on his 3-2 goal, exploiting the time and space available until he picked his spot, made scoring goals in the NHL look deceptively easy. The puck flies off his stick with minimal wind-up.

8.  The result was more about the brilliant individual performances for the Leafs, and the play of the big duos up front (Tavares – Nylander, Matthews – Marner) than any three-man line you felt like was really gelling and rolling as a unit.

There is a lot to sort out here, still, and it’s too early to make too many firm evaluations. My premature feel on it is that Zach Hyman is going to return to L1 more or less full time — already is periodically throughout the game, as expected, but too much of what he generates off the forecheck is probably wasted on his current line — Ilya Mikheyev should find a place next to Tavares and Nylander, Nick Robertson isn’t going to be held out by Jimmy Vesey and Alex Barbanov for very long at LW (either that, or Alex Kerfoot shifts over), and the big unit on the PP will return more or less full time. I thought Jumbo kept up fine in over 17 minutes of ice time in a track-meet of a 60 minutes, but they’re likely going to have to build a third line that Thornton can thrive on for a 13-15 minute workload, one that can establish a bit of a slower cycle identity.

The evaluation period is only just beginning at the bottom of the roster, too, with Alex Barabanov hardly a factor at 5 minutes and change, Zach Bogosian limited to 10 minutes after a couple of bad penalties, and Travis Dermott second-best in too many puck battles (12:34 TOI).

9.  Morgan Rielly was vibrant offensively and the OT hero after a regulation performance that had its fair share of adventurous moments. I’m no less optimistic on the pairing through one game. TJ Brodie looks like he’s going to provide a steadying presence that should really benefit Rielly’s game more nights than not — good feet and stick positioning, dependable decision making with the puck, situationally aware in the d-zone.

It was adventurous at times, as mentioned, but we’re always fair here: Rielly’s defensive play on the Montreal 2 on 1 late in the second period on the Leafs’ power play — a chance to break the Leafs’ backs with a shorthanded goal against — was an unsung play in the flow of the game. The sweep check to take away the shot and pass was textbook, and it’s something he’s improved on in recent seasons. That helped set the stage for the completed comeback.

10.  This game reminded me of a lot of 2019-20 Frederik Andersen performances in this sense: Was there any one goal that hung squarely on his shoulders? No. Do you wish there was an extra save in there somewhere along the way? Yes. The Leafs gave him the run support, though, and the breakaway saves on Drouin in regulation and Danault in OT were game-savers.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens

Game Highlights