By DAVID SHOALTS
Thursday, October 4, 2018
TORONTO -- A few hours before the Toronto Maple Leafs opened their NHL season at home against the Montreal Canadiens, team president Brendan Shanahan decided to send a message.
"When I get together with some of my old mates from the Cup years in Detroit, we talk about winning together and growing together; that's what we remember," Shanahan said. "At end of day, we all found a way to fit with each other so we could keep adding to the group. That's obviously what we're asking some of our young leaders to do."
It was a not-so-subtle warning to holdout forward William Nylander that he should lower his contract demands and think about the team. While this was a bit rich coming from Shanahan, who never hesitated to press his advantage in contract negotiations when he was a player, the Leafs president might want to include the rest of the team in the message after they escaped with a 3-2 overtime win thanks to Auston Matthews's second goal of the night at 1:01 of overtime.
For the Leafs did not exactly come out flying Wednesday night. They were held to a walk much of the night, when they weren't giving the puck away, by a determined Canadiens team led by goaltender Carey Price, who seems to have his mojo back after a poor season in 2017-18.
The Leafs can thank their own goaltender, Frederik Andersen, the margin of the loss wasn't greater, as the Canadiens outshot them 36-25 in regulation.
The depth of the Maple Leafs down the middle was the talk of training camp and at least that played out in the game. Matthews and John Tavares, with his first as a Maple Leaf, scored for Toronto with No. 3 centre Nazem Kadri getting an assist on each one in regulation time.
Artturi Lehkonen and Andrew Shaw scored for the Canadiens while Max Domi, the son of former Leaf Tie Domi, set up both goals.
The Maple Leafs talked a good game at the morning skate, going on about how they were just as excited about the start of the season as the fans but mindful of keeping their attention on what was necessary to beat the Canadiens.
"Obviously, everyone's excited; not just our group in our locker room but around the city," Tavares said a few hours before his first home-opener as a Maple Leaf.
"We're going to go out there tonight and give our best effort. I still get the same butterflies I got in my first year and first game. Obviously it's different. But every new season is obviously a fresh start.
"For me [the goal is to] try to control your energy as best you can and just focus on what you have to do to be successful.
Obviously, it should be a fun environment tonight and fun to play in."
Any sense of fun was quickly taken out of the game by the Canadiens.
They came into the evening hearing nothing but how they were simply roadkill for the go-go Leafs. But over the first period they were the faster team, the scrappier team and the hardest workers.
By the time Artturi Lehkonen scored on a wraparound that bounced off Leaf goaltender Frederik Andersen's glove midway through the first period to put Montreal ahead 1-0, the Canadiens held a 7-1 edge in shots on goal. The high-powered Leafs simply could not get the puck out of their own end.
Well, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock did tell the media mob at the morning skate it was probably not a good idea to discount the Canadiens. He noted the Habs gave the Leafs all they could handle in their last meeting of the pre-season on Sept. 26 in Montreal.
"They worked hard, we turned the puck over," he said. "The first half of that game, it was clear they were better than us.
"It's interesting, everyone talks about the teams, but when you look at the lineup, the one TV screen has ours and the other TV right below it in my office has theirs. Looks like two teams to me so let's go get at 'er."
Well, for the first 10 or so minutes, it was only the Canadiens getting after it.
Andersen was forced to make several good saves while his teammates stood around watching.
However, a tripping penalty to Montreal forward Jonathan Drouin at 11:02 of the first period allowed the Leafs to get back in the game by showing off their celebrated power play. The second unit actually started the power play and produced a couple of good scoring chances.
Then the loaded first unit came on and lived up to its billing. Tavares, Matthews, Kadri and company moved the puck around at will and then Morgan Rielly spotted Matthews alone in the left faceoff circle. Matthews took the pass and got a laser off so quickly to the top corner Price had no time to get set.
It was such a shot that Price took a good long look at the replay on the scoreboard video screen to be sure of what he just saw.
Matthews gave an intense fist-pump to celebrate, probably because his shotrelease was something he spent a lot of time on over the summer.
The goal was a notable first on a few lists. It was the first goal by the new Leaf power play in its first opportunity and it was Matthews' first goal of the season. This gave Matthews a goal in all three of his NHL seasonopeners, a total of six goals.
From this point on, the Leafs played much better but the Canadiens did not bend easily. Much of this was thanks to Price, who appears to have regained his all-world skills. He was outstanding, frustrating the Leafs time after time.
Down at the other end, Andersen was just as good, covering up several of his teammates' defensive mistakes.
The Leafs finally took a 2-1 lead Tavares's goal with two minutes left in the second period. He made a nifty move to get around Habs centre Matthew Peca, moved into the high slot and scored on a shot to the top corner as the crowd went wild.
However, the Leafs quickly squandered the lead when they were caught standing around on a Montreal power play. Andrew Shaw put a shot just under the crossbar to tie the score 2-2 heading into the third period.
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price makes a save as Toronto Maple Leafs centre Tyler Ennis looks for the rebound during their matchup in Toronto on Wednesday. The Leafs won 3-2 in overtime.
NATHAN DENETTE/THE CANADIAN PRESS