By Stan Smith and the Old Prof
On the first regular-season game of the year, the Toronto Maple Leafs came from behind to beat the Montreal Canadiens by a score of 6-5 in a shootout. It was a point-packed Wednesday evening in Toronto, with a total of 10 goals lighting up the scoreboard (11 if you include Marner’s shootout winner) and a whopping 25 points shared by individual players between the teams.
First, let’s address the not-so-pretty side of the game. There were two, actually. First was TJ Brodie’s unfortunate stumble over his own feet, leading to Montreal’s first goal. Second was Timothy Liljegren’s missed pass attempt that led to a Canadiens goal was not the highlight of his evening.
While Brodie’s mishap is forgivable considering his usual consistency, Liljegren’s recurring issue with maintaining control of the puck is concerning. A player must focus on where they’re passing the puck, but some awareness of the position of their hands on the stick is essential.
These were not the only hiccups early in the game. For the first 25 minutes, the Maple Leafs’ passes lacked crispness, leading to a series of turnovers that saw three Maple Leafs struggling to regain their footing. It seemed sort of like the Keystone Cops movies of the silent film era.
[As a note, and this is dating us, the Keystone Cops were a fictional group of incompetent police officers featured in silent film comedies during the early 20th century. The Keystone Cops movies were made primarily in the 1910s and early 1920s. The films were produced by the Keystone Film Company, a famous silent film studio, and were known for their slapstick comedy and chaotic chase scenes.]
During a mere seven minutes and thirty seconds in the third period, Montreal managed to score three goals on just six shots, swinging the game in their favour with a 5-3 lead. Fortunately, the Maple Leafs didn’t quit. They threw caution to the wind and went to work. It was successful – this time.
Ilya Samsonov’s performance in the Maple Leafs’ net, while not filled with glaring mistakes, was far from ideal. Allowing five goals on 24 shots, he posted a .792 save percentage and a 4.80 goals-against average, reflecting a less-than-stellar showing. It was not the start he was seeking.
Amidst the chaos, there were some noteworthy highlights. The game witnessed multiple momentum shifts, with both teams scoring in clusters. Montreal initiated with two goals, but the Maple Leafs promptly responded with three of their own. Then, Montreal struck back with three more goals, only for Toronto to stage a late-game comeback, scoring three straight, including two heroic goals by Auston Matthews with Samsonov pulled. Mitch Marner then sealed the win with his game-ending shootout goal.
The most significant turning point in the game had to be head coach Sheldon Keefe’s successful coaches’ challenge, denying Montreal a 3-0 lead. Moments later, newly-signed Noah Gregor swiftly got the Maple Leafs on the board, with a goal that seemed stoppable but eluded Montreal’s Jake Allen.
Speaking of Gregor, his knack for scoring similar goals in both the preseason and this game raises questions about whether he possesses a deceptive shot or simply had the luck of the draw.
Matthews achieved an impressive milestone by scoring his 300th goal, tying the game at two, and scoring two more goals with his own goalie pulled, tying the game at five with just over a minute remaining in the third period. One has to wonder how many players have managed such a feat in their careers.
John Tavares contributed three assists, and William Nylander tallied a goal and an assist. Among the newcomers, John Klingberg stood out with two assists.
Mitch Marner played a significant role, notching an assist on Matthews’ goal and being the sole shooter to score in the shootout, securing the Maple Leafs’ victory.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
On Saturday, the Maple Leafs host the Minnesota Wild. Maybe we’ll get to see Marc-Andre Fleury play. He’s on his way to the Hockey Hall of Fame when he retires.