Boy, oh boy, was it ever nice to be back at Scotiabank Arena to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs open up the 2021-22 season. The buzz in the building was felt from the moment you walked in. It was revenge season for the Maple Leafs as they welcomed the Montreal Canadiens to open up the new year. The ovations for John Tavares and Jason Spezza rocked the building and it was long overdue for the latter. While several things stood out for me throughout the night, let’s dive into my three takeaways from the home opener.
Jack Campbell Kept the Maple Leafs in the Game
From the opening faceoff to a late flurry with a few minutes left, Campbell came to play and looked solid in goal. “Soup” was often heard in the crowd after a big save and it kept getting louder as the game went on. The freshly minted Maple Leafs top netminder enjoyed starting game one of a season for the very first time. It was great to see him focused after a hard week of celebration…
Yes, Campbell and “Buds” had a big week, but back to the game. The Maple Leafs’ goaltender stopped 24 of 25 shots and looked quiet in net, making some unbelievable reads. Lots of stick taps were handed out to teammates and Campbell even got into it a couple of times with Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher, who made himself at home in the crease.
All in all, it was an excellent performance, and it was nice to see Toronto start the season with a solid outing between the pipes. This whole sharing the crease thing is going to be interesting if Campbell has another fantastic season.
Maple Leafs Penalty Kill Was Much More Aggressive
One of the many changes made to Toronto was that they were going to be more aggressive while down a man, and it was evident from the first kill. Both forwards at the high corners and defensemen down low were all forcing the Canadiens players to make a play and using active sticks to get in the lane. T.J Brodie, in particular, stood out to me as someone who kept intercepting passes or at least deflecting the puck to throw off Montreal.
Newcomer David Kampf showed well in the opener as his 3:51 of ice-time shorthanded led the team. He was brought in to be the shut-down center and there’s no doubt he’s going to help the penalty kill. He ended the night 54% victorious in the faceoff circle. Look for his name called when the team needs a big draw to be won.
Back to the PK, though, the Maple Leafs were a middle-of-the-pack team last season down a man, and this is something they needed to change in 2020-21. The team brought in assistant Dean Chenoweth to change their tactics and it’s already paying off. Let’s just say their perfect performance opening night against the Habs, with this newfound aggressiveness, was a great site for Leafs Nation.
Pierre Engvall and Ondrej Kase Were Maple Leafs Best Duo
Something I was not expecting to see was Engvall and Kase dominating at times. For Engvall, the team’s loyalty to the former seventh-round pick paid off in the season opener as he tied the game at one on the power play in the first period. It was his first career power-play goal and it was off his signature move – the spinning wrister. Unfortunately for Engvall, he got a little carried away at the end with the net empty and iced the puck. His head coach happened to notice…
Look for many more of those shot attempts to come from Engvall, who loves to turn and shoot along the ice. He worked harder than anyone else on the ice every time his number was called and early indications are the Leafs made the right call keeping Engvall over Adam Brooks.
As for Kase, his hands are sneaky soft and it was an excellent debut for the Czech native. Engvall joked after the game he’s going to need to learn some Czech if he’s going to be able to listen to instructions from Kase or Kampf. The line was fantastic for the Maple Leafs and looked like a trio that could play a lot together this season. Kase led the Leafs with six shots on goal and all the forwards with two blocks.
In closing, Campbell was stellar, the penalty kill was dominant and head coach Sheldon Keefe may have found his third-line combination. The Maple Leafs won the hockey game 2-1, but that didn’t matter, to be honest. It was so nice to be back in the building to watch live NHL hockey and the Maple Leafs organization did a fantastic job with several tributes to the frontline workers. Thank you to all the heroes and to Leafs Nation, you can’t win them all if you don’t win the first.
Shane covers any and everything to do with the Toronto Maple Leafs & Pittsburgh Penguins. A constant contributor to the THW family, his passion and unique perspective on the game results in some diverse content. Certainly versatile, you can also find him contributing at NHLTradeRumors.me, BaseballRumors.me & BBallRumors.com. Follow along on Twitter @ShugMcSween