WINNIPEG — Patrick Marleau’s birth certificate may say he’s 38 years old, but Toronto’s veteran free agent was feeling young and energized on Wednesday.
Marleau scored twice and added an assist in his Maple Leafs debut as Toronto cruised to a 7-2 rout of the Winnipeg Jets in the season opener for both teams.
His first goal began with youngster Mitch Marner passing up to sophomore Auston Matthews, who passed it across to Marleau in the high slot. The veteran kicked the puck up to his skate and went in alone on Steve Mason, dekeing before scoring the 509th goal of his career to make it 4-0 for the Maple Leafs.
"You can see how hungry they are out there, not only in games but in practice," Marleau said of Matthews and Marner. "They’re striving to get better each and every day and you want to be part of that and you can feed off that for sure."
Marleau spent the first 19 seasons of his NHL career with the Sharks, signing a three-year contract with Toronto on July 2.
"That was awesome," Matthews, 20, said of Marleau’s first goal. "Unbelievable pickup by him and the move was even better. Pretty special play by him.
"I’m sure it feels good for him to get the ball rolling on that so we’re all happy for him."
Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk and William Nylander scored in a three-minute span in the first period for the Leafs (1-0-0). Marner and Matthews each added their first goals of the season. Tyler Bozak, Matthews and Van Riemsdyk each had a pair of assists and Marleau, Marner and Kadri all contributed one.
Frederik Andersen made 35 saves in net for Toronto.
Mark Scheifele nixed the Leafs’ shutout bid at 11:31 of the third period to make it 6-1. Mathieu Perreault also scored for Winnipeg (0-1-0).
The seven goals tied Toronto’s highest output from last season, a 7-1 home win against the New York Islanders on Feb. 14.
Mason was pulled after Marleau’s second goal 36 seconds into the third period, the Jets goalie having allowed five goals on 20 shots. Connor Hellebuyck stopped nine of the 11 shots he faced in relief.
"Five was enough," Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice said of the timing to pull Mason. "He’s going to have a couple he’d like to have back, but there wasn’t anything you’re looking at saying, ‘My god, how did he miss that?’ "
The Jets dominated the opening period, getting three early power plays and testing Andersen with at least eight shots with the man advantage, but it was Toronto’s only power play of the period that paid off.
With Jets defenceman Jacob Trouba in the penalty box for hooking, Kadri went in front of Mason and took a shot, got his own rebound and then jammed the puck into the net at 15: 45. Van Riemsdyk added his goal at 17:40 and Nylander used Toronto’s 10th shot of the game to make it 3-0 at 18:23.
"We had a number of power plays and it was doing everything but scoring," Jets captain Blake Wheeler said. "And then we took a penalty and kind of let a greasy one in. From there, you blink and it’s 3-0. We weren’t able to dig our way out of it."
Winnipeg was 0 for 8 on the power play and the Leafs 1 for 2.
"There are going to be a lot of penalties called (this season)," Andersen predicted. "Hopefully, we can figure that out soon. Every player is smart. I think we can adjust and not take as many."
Winnipeg heads out for a three-game road trip starting in Calgary Saturday. Toronto begins a three-game homestand Saturday against the New York Rangers.