Better process, worse result for Maple Leafs in loss to Senators

Thomas Chabot scored twice, including the game-winning goal in the third, to power the Senators to a 5-3 win over the Maple Leafs.

TORONTO — The effort was better, the chances more frequent, the defence tighter, yet the result was worse.

When condensed to 60-minute chunks, hockey will always be funny that way.

Billed as two teams accelerating in opposite directions, the Toronto Maple Leafs lost Round 1 of the Battle of Ontario 5-3 at home to the Ottawa Senators Saturday.

And you’ll never guess which of the province’s clubs has jumped off to the better record.

That’s right: the one that traded Erik Karlsson, not the one that signed John Tavares.

Unlike Wednesday’s season opener versus Montreal, the Maple Leafs started on time, dominating the first period every which way except on the scoreboard, creating five high-danger scoring chances to the visitors’ zero.

Whereas Frederik Andersen let a Dylan DeMelo shot find the five-hole, however, Craig Anderson turned away big guns Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitch Marner from in close.

Marner was even granted a penalty shot that the Ottawa netminder kicked out with his right pad, and the winger is now 0-for-2 career freebies.

"Our record is probably what we deserve, and they probably should’ve been in a different order," said coach Mike Babcock, whose troops mustered 80 shot attempts to Ottawa’s 40.

"Really, if you’re going to be 1-1, we probably should’ve won tonight and lost against Montreal."

Period 2 roared in like a lion: Ontario combined for four goals in less than five minutes.

From the half-wall, Marner’s ankle-breaking spins and fakes knotted Boedker into a pretzel, at which point he fed a beautiful cross-ice dish to a pinching Morgan Rielly, who notched his first of the season 29 seconds in.

"That’s just another example of his skill and hockey sense," Rielly said of his setup man. "When he’s playing well, it’s quite evident, and I thought he was outstanding tonight."

A bunch of them were.

Auston Matthews — dangerous all night and faster than last season — made music with another high wrister on the very next shift to give Toronto a temporary lead 41 seconds after that.

The Sens seized right back, however, when 21-year-old Thomas Chabot followed up his own rebound, then Chris Tierney — acquired from San Jose in the Karlsson trade — beat Andersen cleanly rushing down the wing 38 seconds later. Tierney’s first as a Senator gave Ottawa a 3-2 lead.

"That was a big momentum swing," Babcock said.

As the period wound down, Ryan Dzingel committed the cardinal sin of holding Matthews way down in the offensive zone, and the centre immediately set up a streaking Marner for a rush strike on that dreaded PP1, tying the game at three and setting up grab-your-popcorn final frame.

"Turnovers and penalties – they make you pay," acknowledged Senators top-line centre Matt Duchene.

It’s a trend we don’t see slowing down anytime soon, but one that a zoned-in goaltender can solve on any given outing.

Just 66 games into his pro career, Chabot has been handed Karlsson’s old gig of creating offence from the back end, and he struck again in the third, running right through Igor Ozhiganov like the defenceman was a two-game rookie and flipping the puck high-glove for the winner and already his fourth point of the season. (Check your fantasy wire, folks.)

Despite getting outshot 37-24, the Sens clung to victory, spoiling the first of what promises to be many entertaining Saturday nights at Scotiabank Arena.

As was the case Wednesday, for opposite reasons, Andersen’s performance reminded us how frequently a run-and-gun squad like Toronto will live and die by the critical save.

Ottawa got them in bunches. Toronto? Not so much.

"They found a way to go in today," Andersen lamented.

Desperate for a goal late, Babcock tried centre Nazem Kadri on Matthews’ left wing, then pulled Andersen with a healthy 3:14 still on the clock and tapped his big guns: that loaded top power-play unit plus Jake Gardiner. He burned a timeout and sent all six out there for a second push.

Rielly said the plan to pull Andersen with 194 seconds left — considering the league average is closer to the 90-second mark, we sense some Kyle Dubas analytics at play here — was devised during the TV timeout so they wouldn’t have to burn one later.

"That was a little surprising," admitted Andersen, who couldn’t recall leaving his crease so early for an extra attacker. "That was a good opportunity. We started with the puck pretty much the last three minutes and created some good chances.

"I’m sure that’s a tactic that’s going to be used more when you’re down by one."

Alas, even 194 seconds of frontloaded talent couldn’t save the day, and Mark Stone yelped loud after pounding the empty-netter.

"It’s a good roll of the dice when you score," Babcock said. "We had a good opportunity here tonight, there’s no question about it. You’ve got to give their goalie credit."

The Maple Leafs have already hopped on their jet and slide right back in action Sunday in Chicago, for the second serving of their Thanksgiving double-header.

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