McElhinney got his first start of the year in place of Frederik Andersen and made 30 saves for a 6-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday.
“It’s nice, the first one is at home instead of on the road so you can match up accordingly. We used everybody last night, a good four-line rotation, so that helped us as well. Our guys were fresher than they might have been,” said Leafs coach Mike Babcock, whose team won just six times in 18 tries last season in the second of back-to-back games.
“McElhinney had a real solid effort for us, he had to be good early. Even though we scored (early) it took a while to get our legs going.”
Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Tatar, Jonathan Ericsson found the back of the net for the Red Wings (4-3-0). Nick Jensen had three assists.
Jimmy Howard gave up three goals on four shots before getting yanked in favour of Petr Mrazek late in the first period.
“I think there was some funny goals,” said Wings coach Jeff Blashill.
“I don’t know if it was all on them, some of it is it’s one of those nights.”
Toronto scored on its first two shots for a 2-0 lead less than seven minutes into the game and had goals on four of its first five shots for a commanding lead at first intermission.
Kadri took a long pass from Ron Hainsey, walked in and beat Howard over the blocker with Toronto’s first shot of the game at 5:56.
“I thought (Kadri’s) group was our best group tonight, dialled in start to finish,” said Babcock.
Hyman made it 2-0 only 44 seconds later, tipping a Rielly shot past Howard.
Zetterberg put Detroit on the board with 7:50 to play in the first after getting McElhinney to bite on a fake before skating around the net and finishing on a wrap-around with the Leafs netminder out of position.
McElhinney made up for his blunder on Zetterberg by getting his left pad down on an Anthony Mantha shot when the Wings forward got in alone at the side of the net.
Matthews chased Howard from the Wings net with 4:14 to play in the first, snapping a shot past him from almost the exact same spot Kadri did to open the scoring.
Mrazek didn’t fair any better as Brown beat him through a screen on the first shot he faced — only 40 seconds after Matthews’ goal.
Tatar cut into Toronto’s lead 7:02 into the second period when he put in a rebound off his own shot that McElhinney initially kicked into a dangerous area.
Detroit made it 4-3 just 1:34 later on a play that needed video review.
Ericsson’s point shot beat McElhinney but was originally disallowed because of goalie interference on Justin Abdelkader. Wings coach Jeff Blashill challenged the call and it was over turned.
Rielly made good use of a Toronto power play, beating Mrazek from the point to make it 5-3 with 7:03 to go in the second.
“We’re playing good at that point, we take a penalty and they score,” said Blashill. “With that said we had opportunities on our power play and didn’t score.”
Detroit put some pressure on Toronto in the first half of a mostly uneventful third period, but McElhinney was there to keep it a two-goal game until Nylander scored into an empty net.
“There’s a little rust on my end, that’s for sure, but it sure did feel nice to get in there,” said McElhinney. “Obviously, the run support early on helps and goes a long way. It’s just a big win for us and I’m happy I could help out.”
The win leaves Toronto tops in the league with 12 points.
“Great to see, but it’s still October,” said Kadri. “There’s a lot of good teams and it won’t be this loose for long.”