Anticipation had been building since he put pen to paper on July 1 as the NHL’s top available free agent, and John Tavares did not disappoint in his official Toronto Maple Leafs pre-season debut Tuesday night.
The star centre scored two goals and added an assist in a 4-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators, sending Leafs Nation into a frenzy.
It took Tavares little more than five minutes to bury his first goal in a Maple Leafs uniform, tying the game at one goal apiece thanks to a power-play marker assisted by Mitch Marner and Travis Dermott. Tavares took a pass from Marner down low, worked his way to the front of the net and out-waited Mike Condon before firing one blocker side.
Kyle Dubas was on hand to witness what went down in Lucan, Ont., at the Kraft Hockeyville-hosted game and liked seeing No. 91 hit the back of the net.
“I think anytime you go to a new team, whether you’re a draft pick or signed or traded there, it’s always nice to get that first one even though it’s an exhibition,” the Maple Leafs general manager told Sportsnet’s David Amber and Nick Kypreos during the first intermission. “His reaction is the same as it’s always going to be. Not much.”
It was merely a 1-1 tie in the first period of the pre-season opener, but Maple Leafs fans saw Tavares score one time and visions of a Stanley Cup began dancing in their heads.
Tavares just scored… @MapleLeafs gonna win the Stanley Cup
— DJ Heer (@DJHeerMusic) September 18, 2018
Tavares — who signed a seven-year, $77-million contract with the Maple Leafs after nine seasons spent with the New York Islanders — was back at it in the third period.
The 27-year-old outmuscled Sens blueliner Patrick Sieloff in front of the Ottawa net to tap in a rebound for his second of the game.
Marner assisted on that one as well and in the third period Tavares returned the favour by setting up Marner for his first of the pre-season.
Those two played on a line with Zach Hyman, a trio tentatively dubbed the “GTA Line” because all three hail from the Greater Toronto Area. Hyman didn’t register a point but Tavares and Marner combined for a six-point night.
If Tuesday’s game, and the performance of Tavares’ new line, is a sign of things to come then Maple Leafs fans could have plenty more to celebrate this season.