Two games into the 2019-2020 season and the Toronto Maple Leafs already bettered their effort from their first outing against the Ottawa Senators. On Friday, the Maple Leafs were in Columbus to take on the much-changed Blue Jackets and walked out of their barn with a 4-1 win to give themselves a 2-0-0 start to the season.
While the 4-1 win was a decisive one for the Maple Leafs, there were still a number of things that were worth taking away from the matchup – especially with Mike Babcock inserting a few new names into the lineup.
Spezza Gets His Game
After sitting out the first game of the season against his former club and expressing his disappointment, the Maple Leafs had veteran Jason Spezza on their fourth line in place of Nick Shore.
Spezza played just over 10 minutes in his Maple Leafs debut along with nearly three minutes of power play time and just over a minute shorthanded. He finished with two shots on goal and was 50 percent on the draw. That said, it was a crucial face-off lost in the defensive zone on the penalty kill that led to the Blue Jackets’ only goal of the game.
Other than that though, there’s reason to be excited about this depth move by the Maple Leafs.
“I was impressed with him tonight,” said Babcock following the game in Columbus. “I was impressed [that] he was happy with what we needed him to do.”
While the power play did click once for the Blue Jackets, it was the Maple Leafs’ special teams that also made noise in this game.
Special Teams Were Key
Both clubs had five power plays throughout the contest and the Maple Leafs had success on both ends. They went two for five on their power plays with Mitch Marner’s first period tally and Auston Matthews’ third period snipe – both coming with the team’s number one unit on the ice.
On the other side, the Maple Leafs also shut down the Blue Jackets power play for the most part. Aside from their one goal, the Maple Leafs successfully killed off four other Blue Jackets’ power plays and seemed to do so with relative ease – finding ways out of the zone and doing so quickly.
Can You Ceci Me Now?
While he didn’t score in his first game with the Maple Leafs against his former club – the Senators – Cody Ceci did notch his first tally as a member of the blue and white in Columbus on Friday.
The goal came midway through the second period. Ceci got the puck on the blue line, walked in and wristed the shot past Joonas Korpisalo to give his club a 2-0 lead at the time.
Ceci played the most of any Maple Leafs player on Friday at 24:44. That included just 10 seconds on the power play and just over three minutes on the penalty kill. With guys like Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev gone, Ceci looks like he could be the guy on the team’s penalty kill this season.
More Money, More Goals?
Well, he got paid this offseason and with all the talk of scorers getting paid better than playmakers, it looks as though Marner might consider shooting a little more often this season.
The young star was tied for the most shots on the Maple Leafs with four against the Blue Jackets and it paid off. He tallied the opening goal for the team on the power play and added the first insurance goal just two minutes into the final frame.
But hey, he can still move the puck. Marner added an assist on Matthews’ late-game tally to give him a three-point night and four points through the first two games of the season.
Still Seeing Defensive Breakdowns
With so many new names on the team, it’s no wonder there were still a number of defensive breakdowns in which Frederik Andersen had to bail out his mates. However, at least early in the season, it seems that Andersen is up to the task.
He stopped a total of 28 of the 29 shots he faced on Friday with the lone goal coming on the power play and finished with a .966 save percentage in the game. Still, the 30-year-old goaltender has seen 55 shots over the first two games of the season with a number of those opportunities coming in close.
So much for load management.
Also Worth Noting…
Morgan Rielly had a three-assist night against Columbus, bringing his total to four for the year in just two games as well. The 25-year-old had a career-year last season and was snubbed as a potential Norris candidate, but should continue to provide offence for the Maple Leafs in his seventh season with the team.
By all accounts, Nic Petan and Spezza will be back out of the lineup on Saturday against the Canadiens in Toronto. They will be replaced by Dmytro Timashov and Shore. That said, expect them both to be back in the lineup with Gauthier when the St. Louis Blues come to town on Monday.
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.