The Toronto Maple Leafs played both the first game of their season – albeit a preseason game – and their first game in front of their live fans for almost two years. The result was a 4-1 Maple Leafs’ win over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday late afternoon.
In truth, the game was never in doubt. It looked as if the Maple Leafs were faster, more skilled, and cared more about winning than the Canadiens. The Canadiens seemed as if they were step behind all game long.
In this post, I’ll offer nine take-aways from the game.
Take-Away One: John Tavares
John Tavares is back. He looked fully healed and as skilled as ever. He also looked quite at home with his two young line-mates – Josh Ho-Sang and Michael Bunting. That group was quick on the puck and very fast all night – especially at the start of the game.
The Canadiens came back a bit in the third period, but the two youngsters looked good on Tavares’ wings. It made me think that Tavares might have a much more central role this season than last. He scored on the power play when he tipped home a Nylander shot.
Take-Away Two: Jake Muzzin
Jake Muzzin is a great defenseman who’s offense has picked up over the years since he’s been with the Maple Leafs. Muzzin scored on a great feed from William Nylander, but his offensive instincts showed all game long. He seemed willing to think offensively without losing anything on defense. For a big player, he seemed to be all over the ice.
Take-Away Three: William Nylander
William Nylander was fast, skilled, and under control. Nylander first rush of the game showed that he could play at a different speed than almost anyone else on the ice. Nick Robertson and Josh Ho-Sang looked to be as fast, but Nylander seemed able to see the ice better.
Nylander looked to be in charge. He’s a great player and it strikes me that calls by fans for his trading are simply off mark. He be the best player by far on any number of different NHL teams. Nylander had two assists on the night.
Take-Away Four: Michael Bunting
Michael Bunting scored a goal for the Maple Leafs. It seemed so simple because he looked as if he knew where to go and what to do when he got there. His goal came on a very basic play really, when he went to the net with his stick on the ice. Then, all he had to do was simply re-direct a perfectly-passed T.J. Brodie puck into the net. Easy.
What was also impressive was that Bunting seems willing to go to the front of the net and engage himself in the tough action. He could be good in that role for the team. He isn’t Zach Hyman yet, but …
Take-Away Five: Michael Hutchinson
Michael Hutchinson stopped 13 shots of the 14 he faced, and he was strong in net. He looked good on the night and could be a strong asset to the team as he was last season. He’s an inexpensive insurance policy in case one of the other goalies goes down.
Say what you want, he’s usually solid for the Maple Leafs. Too bad that young goalie Ian Scott left the game with what has been reported to be a groin injury, but he didn’t seem to be in much discomfort on his way to the dressing room. He only made three stops, but looked calm in net.
Take-Away Six: Jason Spezza
Jason Spezza is smart, skilled, fast, and the Maple Leafs are fortunate to have him on their roster. I heard one of the announcers note that the 38-year-old Spezza was one of the fastest Maple Leafs players in the training camp’s notorious wind-sprints that head coach Sheldon Keefe has the players do during practices. He seems ageless out there.
Take-Away Seven: Ilya Mikheyev
Ilya Mikheyev looks as if he’s going to get some time in the team’s top-six in a more pronounced offensive role. He was a fast as ever, but the coaches put him into more offensive roles during the game – even on the power-play unit. While he didn’t score during the game, he – as always – had lots of chances.
However, Mikheyev did score a good goal to win the shootout for his team. You can just tell that the coaching staff is working to put him into chances where he can score – or learn to score. Once that dam breaks, it might turn the corner on his offensive season. He’ll always be great on defense.
Take-Away Eight: Josh Ho-Sang
Josh Ho-Sang is skilled and fast. That was obvious from the start of the game. He also seemed under control and not prone to anything “goofy.” Whether that good attitude lasts or not, who knows? But if he can keep his head on straight, he could be a real pick-up for the Maple Leafs. His talent was evident.
Take-Away Nine: Kurtis Gabriel
Kurtis Gabriel was everything he was advertised to be, and he even scored a goal. He put a big hit on the Canadiens’ Brandon Baddock at the end of a shift – both seemed gassed. Then when Braddock dropped the gloves, it didn’t take long for Gabriel to put him on the ice during the ensuing fight.
Even more interesting, again at the end of a shift, Gabriel intercepted a pass from the Canadiens’ goalie and skated to the open to put the puck into the abandoned net the goalie had created by his ill-fated decision.
Summary and Caveat
Obviously, this was the Maple Leafs’ first game of the season and came after only two days of practice, but the team was ready to go tonight and simply over-matched the team Canadiens iced. The Maple Leafs looked good, including the newcomers.
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