The giddy Stanley Cup chatter, the stories on the embarrassment of forward riches, the feeling that Toronto has landed a real goalie… none of it will disappear this week.
The Toronto Maple Leafs’ cocktail of veterans and kids blended into a mixture too stiff for their hosts to handle in a season-opening party they crashed in Winnipeg.
The Leafs’ 7-2 defeat of the Jets Wednesday was highlighted by illegal attire, tic-tac-toe goals, and two vastly different goaltending performances. Here are seven things we learned.
Marleau enjoyed an $18.75-million debut
At this rate, those 38-year-old hands will be worth every penny.
For a guy whose first 1,493 games were played with just one club, Patrick Marleau’s transition to a new conference, a new country, and a new team feels seamless.
The veteran scored in his first pre-season game, and again — twice — in his first regular-season game as a Maple Leaf. (For the record, Zach Hyman did not score, if you wish to keep that debate alive.)
During a bump-up shift immediately following a penalty kill, coach Mike Babcock deployed a power line of Marleau-Matthews-Marner. Mitch Marner fed Auston Matthews, who dished to Marleau, who took the pass off his blade and deked Steve Mason something filthy.
“We played the right way for the majority of the game, and we were rewarded for it,” Marleau said after his two-goal, five-shot night.
Sounds like a Leaf already.
Three first lines in Toronto?
“It’ll be the defensive part of the game that defines the wins and losses,” Jets coach Paul Maurice told reporters ahead of the game. Ominously.
Toronto’s forwards rushed and crashed the net in talented waves. Matthews had just one goal and two assists, a step down from his four-goal season debut of 2016. Maybe he’s not the real deal, after all.
“A lot of our guys got off,” Babcock told reporters. “You don’t have to worry about scoring goals when you score right away.
After withstanding a 15-minute, post-anthem onslaught from Winnipeg, the Leafs erupted late in the first frame and never looked back.
“We certainly didn’t want to give up three goals in the last five minutes,” said Tyler Myers after 20 minutes of play.
Power plays are wonderful, if you capitalize on them
Renowned for their discipline issues, the Jets welcomed former NHL referee Paul Devorski to their training camp to help instruct the players on how to mute whistles. The club set a goal of taking fewer PIMs than their opponent each night.
Indeed, Winnipeg ended up with twice as many power-plays as the visitors, but went 0-for-8 with the man-advantage. Toronto went 2-for-4 and notched another on a delayed call.
“You can’t give those blatant opportunities to a powerful team like Toronto. It’s going to end up in the back of our net,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a first-intermission TV interview.
“If we want to take penalties of the nature that some were taken today, it’s going to be a long year.”
Toronto’s rejigged main PK unit, featuring Ron Hainsey, Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown and Eric Fehr, did yeoman’s work.
Fourth-liner Brown topped all Leafs forwards in ice time with 16:48.
“Kind of a weird game with so many penalties, not too much flow,” goalie Frederik Andersen said, “but our penalty kill came up huge for us.”
Jets cross another contract off a long list
Nikolaj Ehlers inked a juicy seven-year, $42-million contract extension mere hours before puck drop and celebrated with this nifty pre-game handshake with Patrik Laine:
Cheveldayoff has been busy wrapping up important player negotiations this fall. First it was impending UFA centre Bryan Little, then Ehlers. So, who’s on deck for a raise? They got RFAs for days.
“There’s [Jacob] Trouba, there’s [Adam] Lowry, there’s [Joshua] Morrisey, lots of guys up for extensions,” Cheveldayoff said. “Of course, in the summer you’ve got a player like Laine to deal with as well.”
Fashion Police crack down on Toronto
The Leafs’ off-kilter Leo Komarov was penalized in the first period for not wearing his visor properly, an infraction discussed at the GM meetings and one which the winger was warned about in the pre-season.
“I don’t see through it. That’s the reason I’m wearing it up there,” Komarov explained after officials told him to remove his high visor altogether in a pre-season, uh, tilt.
“So it’s not like I’m being cocky or anything. It’s how I play forever. So I took it off, but I don’t feel safe without it, so we’ll see what’s going to happen.”
Two minutes in the box and a livid Babcock, apparently, is what happens.
Komarov’s helmet, which spawned its own vanity Twitter account, wasn’t the only party guilty of a wardrobe malfunction.
Frederik Andersen arrived with blue tape wrapped on the end of his goal stick and was forced to cover it with white tape.
Eric Fehr (who won the 4C start over Dominic Moore) and Connor Brown each received warnings for tucked sweaters, the result of accidental slippage as opposed to a style choice.
Fehr attributed the tuck to the NHL’s new slim-fit Adidas sweaters.
“I’ve been in the league for a few years and I’ve never had an issue,” Fehr said on-air. “I guess they’re trying to crack down on a lot of stuff, and that seems to be one of them.”
Kadri gave us a scouting report on Laine
Jets super sophomore Patrik Laine described the effort as “just embarrassing.” He did not score, but he did create chances, fire from his office, and set up Mark Scheifele for Winnipeg’s first marker of the season.
Before he flew to the game, we asked Leafs shutdown centre Nazem Kadri for his Laine scouting report:
“He’s a heads-up player,’ Kadri said. “He’s got that lethal shot. He can shoot it from anywhere in the zone and have an opportunity to score. He’s got deceiving speed for a big man. He’s not slow. He’s strong on the puck. He’s got a long reach. He’s good at picking up pucks and stripping guys. Those are all things you have to be aware of.”
Goaltending — It helps to have some
The great, big knock on the modern Jets has been the club’s lack of goaltending. Would this summer’s free-agent acquisition of Steve Mason be the one to stop some pucks and take the heat off a still-developing Connor Hellebuyck?
Judging by a sample size of two periods and 36 seconds — at which point Mason was pulled in favour of the younger netminder — the answer is no.
Mason allowed five goals on 20 shots to the dynamic Leafs forwards. To be fair, he had received zero run support.
Hellebuyck let in two more in less than period’s worth of work. Eek.
Two hundred feet away, Toronto’s No. 1 began the season leaner and healthier and looked razor sharp in this one, stopping 35 shots en route to the W.