The Toronto Maple Leafs kicked off the NHL season Wednesday night by beating one of their oldest rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, 3-2 with the help of Auston Matthews’ second goal of the game in overtime.
Matthews took a feed from Patrick Marleau and beat Carey Price upstairs with 61 seconds left in the extra period at the newly renamed Scotiabank Arena.
John Tavares, with his first for Toronto, also scored. Nazem Kadri added two assists.
Artturi Lehkonen and Andrew Shaw scored for Montreal, which saw 23 saves from Price. Max Domi – the son of former Leafs tough guy, Tie Domi – had two assists in his first game with the Canadiens.
With expectations at an all-time high for one of the most highly anticipated seasons in decades, the Leafs opener had its share of ups and downs despite the positive end result.
Here are five takeaways from one of the oldest rivalries in the game:
Tavares wasting no time
The Leafs shocked the hockey world on July 1 when they signed Tavares to a seven-year, US$77-million contract, and the star centre did not disappoint in his first action in his hometown colours. Tavares netted his first goal as a Leaf late in the second period on a snap shot from the slot that beat Price blocker side high.
“It was nice to contribute,” Tavares said after the game, calling the atmosphere “tremendous.”
“I’ve said all along I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity and take advantage of it and give it everything I’ve got. I hope to make them proud,” he said.
Don’t forget about Auston Matthews
It’s almost as if the acquisition of Tavares made the presence of a 21-year-old superstar heading into his third season an afterthought.
But the sniper brought himself to the forefront once again with two goals, including the game winner, in the opener. The star forward has now scored in each of the three season openers he’s played in, including his four-goal stunner in his NHL debut against the Ottawa Senators.
WATCH: First Maple Leafs goal of season goes to Auston Matthews
It appears as though it’s up to Price to carry the Canadiens once again, and early indications are that he’s back in form and up to the task. The 31-year-old, who is looking to rebound from a career-worst season that saw him finish with a 3.11 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage, is kicking off an eight-year, $84-million contract extension.
The goaltender had 34 saves, including robbing Tavares, Marleau and Josh Leivo to make sure his team stayed in the game in the first and second period.
“I think everybody saw the big saves he’s made, he was really good for us tonight,” Canadiens head coach Claude Julien said after the game.
“He made a lot of diving saves where he was getting his leg out and it looks like it’s going in the back of the net and Carey sticks out his leg or his arm and he makes the save and that’s why he’s one of the best goalies,” Matthews said.
Leafs defensive holes
Is Frederik Andersen in for the same workload as last year? The goaltender faced the most shots and made more saves than any goalie in the NHL during the 2017-18 season. It was no different on Wednesday, with the Leafs getting outshot 36-26 and the Dane racking up 34 saves.
“We’ve got to be way better for him – he made a lot of saves, too many,” Matthews said. “We didn’t really take care of the puck in the D-zone … he stood on his head for us to give us an opportunity.”
Questions were asked prior to the season about whether the Leafs had made the necessary improvements on their defensive line.
The Leafs backend appears to be missing a true No. 1 defenceman, with Morgan Rielly being the closest the team has. Jake Gardiner, Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev rounded out the top four on Wednesday and it was Travis Dermott and Igor Ozhiganov, who made his NHL debut, who won the fifth and sixth spots, respectively.
Andersen doesn’t appear too worried. He told reporters after the game he thinks the team just needs to work out a few more details. “It’ll come the more we play together,” he said. “That’s stuff that we can clean up, but we’re going to take the two points and move on.
Is there someone missing?
A relatively slow start from the offense undoubtedly had Leafs fans wishing William Nylander had been in the lineup for Wednesday’s opener. The talented restricted free-agent right winger remained away from the team due to an ongoing contract standoff.
The Leafs have until Dec. 1 to come to an agreement with Nylander for him to be eligible to play this season. Reports have it that Nylander is looking for anywhere between $7 and $8 million a year on a long-term deal while the Leafs look for a shorter term, with a salary between $6-6.75 million.
Nylander is the first of the young Leafs stars — Matthews and Marner among others — to look for a new deal off their entry-level contracts.
Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said Wednesday morning that he has left the contract negotiations in the hands of GM Kyle Dubas.
In 82 games last season, Nylander had 20 goals and 41 assists. When asked about taking a hometown discount in order to maximize your opportunity to win, Matthews told reporters that’s what agents are for.
“Let them figure it out and talk to management and we’ll stay out of it and play hockey,” he said.
–With files from The Canadian Press