Rick Zamperin: Grading the Maple Leafs’ season-opening win

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly (44) is congratulated by teammate John Tavares (91) on his game winning goal during overtime NHL action against the Montreal Canadiens, in Toronto, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

The Toronto Maple Leafs opened the NHL season with a thrilling 5-4 win in overtime against the Montreal Canadiens Wednesday night.

Considering this was the first real game action for both teams because they didn’t play any exhibition games, the pace of the contest, especially right out of the gate, was quick and fairly crisp.

By the time the third period and OT rolled around, the rust that had accumulated during hockey’s offseason had been shaken off.

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Forwards – A

Toronto’s top line of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and newcomer Joe Thornton was the most dangerous unit on the ice, generating numerous scoring chances against Montreal star goalie Carey Price. Zach Hyman also took a couple of turns on the line in place of Thornton.

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The Leafs’ second line did the most damage on the scoresheet. William Nylander scored a pair of goals, including one on the power-play, and John Tavares had a goal and two assists while Jimmy Vesey scored his first goal as a Leaf.

With his team down 3-1 in the second period, Leafs tough guy Wayne Simmonds dropped the gloves with Habs defencemen and Hamilton native Ben Chiarot and in doing so put a charge into his teammates.

Defence – B

Morgan Rielly and recently-acquired T.J. Brodie is Toronto’s new top defensive pairing, and while showing well in the offensive zone, the new combo looked like they are still trying to figure each other out in their own end of the ice. Rielly scored the winning goal in overtime after a nice cross ice feed from Tavares.

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The second grouping of Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl was solid while newcomer Zach Bogosian took a couple of needless penalties, the second of which resulted in the Canadiens’ third goal of the game.

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Goaltending – B

Starting netminder Frederik Andersen made a handful of good saves in regulation and didn’t have much of a chance on Nick Suzuki and Josh Anderson’s first period goals.

The Leafs’ netminder wasn’t as sharp as he could have been on Tomas Tatar’s goal that made it 3-1 for the Canadiens in the second period, nor did he look particularly good on Anderson’s second goal of the night early in the third.

But Anderson more than made up for his mistakes with a couple of game saving stops in overtime to ensure Toronto picked up two points in their season opener.

Rick Zamperin is the assistant program, news and senior sports director at Global News Radio 900 CHML.

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