Senators drop opener of split-squad pre-season doubleheader to Maple Leafs

Tim Stützle got things started by scoring the first goal of the NHL preseason, but Alex Steeves mounted a comeback with two goals in response, and the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Ottawa Senators 4-1.

TORONTO — Justin Holl had a goal and an assist as the Toronto Maple Leafs scored on three straight shots in a 4-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday in the opener of a split-squad doubleheader to kick off the NHL’s pre-season schedule.

Alex Steeves, with two goals, and Denis Malgin provided the rest of the offence for Toronto. Mark Giordano added three assists.

Erik Kallgren stopped seven shots over 40 minutes of work for the Leafs before making way for Dylan Ferguson in the third period.

Tim Stutzle replied for Ottawa, which got 10 saves from Cam Talbot. Kevin Mandolese took over goaltending duties midway through the second period.

Toronto regulars in the lineup for the 1 p.m. start at Scotiabank Arena included Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander.

Stutzle led the charge for Ottawa, while Talbot, Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux suited up with the Senators for the first time since joining the club as part of a busy off-season in the nation’s capital. 

Jake Sanderson, the fifth-overall pick at the 2020 draft, made his professional debut for Ottawa.

The teams were set to dress entirely different rosters for Saturday’s 7 p.m. nightcap, with goaltender Ilya Samsonov poised to see his first action for the Leafs. Fellow netminder Matt Murray, acquired by Toronto from Ottawa in July, was given Saturday off.

The exhibition schedule’s curtain-raiser marked the first time the Leafs have played a split-squad doubleheader in the same venue on the same day, while it was the second such instance for the Senators after they met the New York Islanders in St. John’s, N.L., in 2014.

The Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers have played three pre-season doubleheaders since 2011, and have another scheduled for Monday.

“It’s strange … feels like 10 (p.m.) right now,” Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe, who arrived at Scotiabank Arena before dawn, said when he spoke with reporters around 4 p.m. “Haven’t seen the daylight yet today. But it serves a purpose for me and for us and for our team. 

“So for that reason, I think it’s a good thing.”

Toronto’s post-game media availability was also the first time reporters have been allowed in an NHL dressing room since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Nice to have you guys back in here,” Leafs winger Wayne Simmonds said with a grin.

“It’s good to have you back,” Keefe added. “Sort of.”

The Senators opened the scoring midway through the first when Stutzle took a stretch pass and beat Kallgren on the visitors’ only shot of the period.

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Toronto held a decided territorial edge and finally broke through with a trio of goals 2:14 apart in the second.

Holl scored on a long shot with Zach Aston-Reese – a veteran forward looking to make the roster on a professional tryout – screening Talbot. Malgin took a slick feed from Nylander on an odd-man rush and Giordano’s point shot deflected in off Steeves for a 3-1 advantage.

The rookie winger then scored his second of the afternoon into an empty net late in a third period that saw the 14,532 fans in attendance take part in “The Wave” – a rare occurrence at Scotiabank Arena.

Ferguson, who’s on a professional tryout, stopped all nine shots he faced.

Mandolese, meanwhile, was perfect on the 11 shots against.

So what’s the plan for the players who suited up for Game 1?

“I’m going to go home, hang out with my girls,” Simmonds said. 

“I’ll watch it on TV, though, for sure.”

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