It was a long time coming, but on Wednesday the NHL got back underway with the 2020-21 NHL season – re-aligned and revamped with all new rivalries. However, with the creation of the North Division, and the Toronto Maple Leafs set to meet the Montreal Canadiens a total of 10 times this season, it’s no doubt their rivalry will continue to grow as it has over year’s past.
On Wednesday, the Maple Leafs and Canadiens rekindled their hostilities to open the NHL’s new season with the Maple Leafs walking away with a 5-4 overtime win in Toronto. With that, here are a few takeaways from their opening night victory.
A Revamped Canadiens Unit
Persistence might’ve been the name of the game for the Canadiens – especially when it came to their new trio of Jonathan Drouin, Nick Suzuki and Josh Anderson. The three of them clicked for three of the Canadiens four goals, combining for three goals and three assists – including a three-point performance from Drouin.
Anderson debuted with a two-goal showing, while Suzuki seemed to be all over the offensive zone including some strong forechecking from the second-year forward.
On top of the newcomers, Carey Price also played a strong game keeping his team in it for most of the contest and stopping 29 of 34 shots. While the numbers don’t look all that enticing from the outside looking in, it could’ve been much worse for the Canadiens had Price not come up with some big stops down the stretch to keep this game tight all the way along.
Maple Leafs’ Resiliency
On the other side of the puck, the Maple Leafs were able to stage a few minor comebacks after going down1-0, then 3-1, and again 4-3, to ultimately win the game in overtime. Now, you don’t want to have to talk about resiliency this early in the season, that said, it was good to see the Maple Leafs find a way to stay in the game after going down.
They were outshot 11-7 in the first frame and bounced back with a better second period outshooting the Canadiens 14-7. While they did still give up some key chances in the third and even into overtime, the Maple Leafs were able to pull out the win just over three minutes into overtime.
As for Frederik Andersen, even with giving up the four goals through just over 41 minutes, he was able to shut down the Canadiens in key opportunities to preserve the win and two points for his club.
Holes on the Back End
While the Maple Leafs were able to escape with the win, there were still some questions on the back end. Passing was sloppy. Communication seemed to be lacking a little bit on reverse plays behind their own net and wingers still weren’t always on the boards while the Maple Leafs looked to break out of their own end.
The team gave up 32 shots on Andersen and left a lot of gaps where the Canadiens were able to capitalize. Even on the Anderson goal late in the first period, the Habs’ forward was given far too much time to find his shot and put it past the Maple Leafs’ goaltender.
On the plus side, this is the first game with this unit together and the team did block 17 shots from the Canadiens in front of their keeper. On the other hand, it wasn’t a pleasant start for a guy like Zach Bogosian who was whistled for two minor penalties early on. Could we see Mikko Lehtonen for the second game of the season? Well, let’s wait and see.
Will Ny the Scoring Guy
The one Maple Leaf player that really impressed in most aspects of his game, at least from my standpoint, was William Nylander. Coming off a season where he had 31 goals – a career-high – Nylander started the year with two goals and an assist.
His first came off a one-timed slap shot from the point that found it’s way through traffic and past Price. While his second goal came off a play in which he got the puck on the half boards and worked his way into the slot before wristing it top corner over the should of Price.
But what might have been more impressive than anything was his ability to get back and disrupt the play of the Canadiens’ forwards when they had possession. He had one takeaway and a blocked shot to go along with his three points and three shots on goal in just over 18 minutes of ice-time.
While he surely won’t keep up the three-point-per-game pace, the start is definitely one you want for a player like Nylander who feeds off of his confidence.
Also Worth Noting…
Jason Spezza recorded an assist on Nylander’s second period power play goal to get the Maple Leafs within one. The helper was his 600th career assist and his first point of the new season. The assists puts him 92nd all-time in assists, one back of tying Glenn Anderson. He also sits just 11 points shy of cracking the top 100 on the NHL’s all-time points list – a feat that is definitely attainable this season.
The Canadiens have a star defenceman in the making in Alexander Romanov. He played 21:30 of ice-time in his season debut, had four blocked shots, three shots on goal and an incredible pass to send Tomas Tatar in alone on the power play – a pass that eventually turned into an assist and his first career NHL point.
Speaking of firsts, Jimmy Vesey tallied his first goal in a Maple Leafs uniform. Vesey was the recipient of nice pass from Nylander from the side of the net and put one past Price just over halfway through the third to tie the game.
Morgan Rielly scored his fifth career overtime winner. He sits second in franchise history in overtime goals by a defenceman behind only Tomas Kaberle who has seven.
Another Maple Leafs addition this offseason, Wayne Simmonds, got the team going with a small bout with Canadiens defenceman Ben Chiarot. Simmonds on the way to bench rallied the troops with a yell over to the bench, “Let’s go!”
The Maple Leafs will take on the Ottawa Senators on Friday in their second game of the season.
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.