The 2019-2020 NHL season kicked off when the puck dropped on a renewed rivalry between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night. The game included a number of former Maple Leafs suiting up for the opposition, while the new-look Leafs readied themselves for what should be a fun and successful season for the team.
While it didn’t look great for the Maple Leafs early in the game – going down 1-0 under a minute into the contest – the team rallied to take a 5-3 victory out of the hands of the Senators, opening their season with a regulation win.
That said, it wasn’t the score, so much, that was worth noting – even though a five-spot in the first game is a nice way to start the season. Rather there were a number of other aspects of the game that were worth noting for the Maple Leafs, their brass and their fans going forward.
A New Leader in Town
As the announcer called off the names of the Maple Leafs opening night roster, four players were left out of the numerical order – Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly and John Tavares.
While the first three skated out donning newly stitched As on the chest of their jerseys, it was Tavares that skated onto the ice last – to a standing ovation – with a C on the left chest of his jersey.
With it, Tavares – who captained the New York Islanders during his tenure there – became the 25th captain in franchise history and the first since Dion Phaneuf wore the C for the Maple Leafs.
Tavares was told just 48 hours earlier by Kyle Dubas and company along with the help of his three-week-old son Jace and wife Aryne.
“I’ll never forget that moment,” said Tavares following the team’s opening night win. “It’s been an amazing three weeks. To see [Jace] there with it on to be the one to tell me was very emotional and really, really special.”
Tavares had an assist and two shots on goal in just over 18 minutes in his debut as the team’s captain.
Matthews’ Opening Night Success
One of Tavares’ assistants had a night to remember as well and seems to whenever the Maple Leafs open the season. Matthews tallied two more goals to bring his opening night totals to nine goals in four regular season openers – including six in two games against the Senators.
The two tallies – recorded in just over 18 minutes of ice-time – also tied the Maple Leafs’ fourth-year forward with Babe Dye for the most goals on opening night in franchise history.
A Handful of Firsts
While the stars were shining for the Maple Leafs, there were a number of firsts worth noting as well. Alex Kerfoot, Nick Shore, Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie were all suiting up in their first games as Maple Leafs, while Rasmus Sandin, Ilya Mikheyev and Dmytro Timashov all stepped onto the ice for their first taste of regular season NHL action.
It didn’t stop there, either. Barrie and Timashov tallied their first assists with the Maple Leafs on the team’s first goal by Frederik Gauthier, while Mikheyev and Sandin also tallied their firsts on the Maple Leafs second goal scored just two minutes later by Trevor Moore.
Naturally, that was also the first NHL point for Timashov, Mikheyev and Sandin, while Mikheyev also added his first NHL goal midway through the third period on a nice feed by Barrie.
It’s also worth noting that Scott Sabourin tallied his first NHL goal for the Senators early in the second after having spent roughly five seasons in the minors.
Offsides Still a Pain
Well, the offside reviews struck again in this one. It was the first challenge of the season and – not only did it cancel out a goal for the Senators, but – it changed the moment of the entire game with the Maple Leafs scoring just 34 seconds later.
The goal was one that would’ve put the Sens up 3-2, with veteran defenceman and former Maple Leafs blueliner Ron Hainsey sniping it over Frederik Andersen’s shoulder. However, upon further review, when Anthony Duclair entered the Maple Leafs zone, Bobby Ryan lifted his back foot putting him offside.
The goal was ultimately called back and the rest is history. Either way, it’s a reviewable call that needs to be readdressed. If the foot is hovering over the blue line, should the NHL consider that onside or not?
While the Maple Leafs definitely came away happy with the win, Jason Spezza voiced his disappointment with being scratched for the team’s opening night matchup with his former club.
That said, the veteran forward did take it in stride.
“You definitely want to be part of these games,” he said, according to Sportsnet. “They give you things to get excited about. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed, but I’m also a professional.”
Also Worth Noting…
While the Maple Leafs did put up five goals in their season debut, it is worth mentioning that the defence did break down on the Senators goals – at least the opening tally of the game and their third goal. The team left the Senators with some great chances and forced Andersen to be sharp on a number of occasions, something that Babcock and the coaching staff will surely address ahead of their second game.
On another note, the Maple Leafs bottom six showed a lot of competitiveness in their first game together. As mentioned there was contributions from first-year players as well as early goals and blue-collar goals from players like Moore and Gauthier early on.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.