Matthews’ OT winner lifts out-worked Maple Leafs to victory in season-opener

Nazem Kadri was saying in the morning on Wednesday that the expectations and hype outside the Maple Leafs dressing room doesn’t matter a whole heck of a lot to the players themselves.

“We’re all humble in here,” the Leafs centre said. “We understand that just because we’re (among) the (Stanley Cup) favourites doesn’t mean we’re going to win. We get that. We know there is going to be a lot of teams that are going to be ready to play us.

“It’s not going to be easy and we have not earned anything yet. We understand how hard it’s going to be.”

Lo and behold, the Leafs got one of those teams “ready to play them” in the 2018-19 regular-season opener when the Montreal Canadiens pulled into Scotiabank Arena.

The Leafs won 3-2 on an overtime goal by Auston Matthews on a pass from Patrick Marleau, sending the crowd of 19,589 into a tizzy.

But scrape away the pomp, the player introductions, the loud ovations for John Tavares, Matthews and Mitch Marner, and it was evident the Leafs’ defensive troubles that have been recurring in past seasons weren’t quite fixed during training camp and the pre-season. Leafs coach Mike Babcock didn’t necessarily see a trend. Is he confident this team won’t need many lessons or messages to learn to play right?

“No, I’m not confident … I think you think there’s a big carryover from year-to-year and there’s not,” Babcock said. “I’ve been in the league a long time and you start over again each year.

“This is a different kind of team with a different set of expectations. You know, when you’re real scared, it’s easy to work hard. When you’re not as scared, it’s not as easy to work hard. Hopefully that will put a little scare in us and we’ll get going.”

The Canadiens aren’t supposed to put a scare into many opponents, not with a thin group of centres and a suspect defence corps.

But netminder Carey Price, when healthy and in a zone, has few, if any equals, in the National Hockey League. Price robbed many a Leaf, but this isn’t to suggest the Leafs were constantly peppering Price. Far from it. Montreal outshot Toronto 36-26, as the Leafs never were able to establish consistent offensive-zone pressure.

In the Leafs net, Frederik Andersen was as sharp, just as he is paid to be. But maybe give him some more support against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night, eh?

A week earlier, the Canadiens demonstrated in a pre-season game against the Leafs in Montreal that they’re quick on the puck and diligent, and on Wednesday night, they were again. The Leafs knew what was coming, but in some chunks of the game, weren’t prepared.

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Tavares scored a magnificent goal in the second period when he turned Montreal forward Matthew Peca inside out and then zipped a high shot over Price’s right shoulder, bringing a standing ovation for the 28-year-old’s first goal in a Toronto sweater.

In the first period, the cerebral Matthews scored on a power play, going high glove on Price. Matthews has scored at least one goal in each of the Leafs’ past three season openers.

The Canadiens scored midway through the first period with Artturi Lehkonen putting the puck past Andersen.

Andrew Shaw tied the game 2-2 on a power play late in the second.

“It’s not going to be perfect, especially early on,” Kadri said. “Throughout the pre-season and early parts of the season in October, it’s a little bit sloppy and as the games roll on, you’re going to see things tighten up. We have a lot of work to do.”

Eighty-one more opportunities await.

Shanahan speaks to the media on Sept. 12, 2017 (DAVE ABEL/POSTMEDIA)

SHANNY UNSPOKEN

Listen between the lines and Leafs president Brendan Shanahan wasn’t overly subtle in sending a message to Matthews and Marner when he was asked about the status of William Nylander on Wednesday.

“I can speak from personal experience that when I get together with some of my mates from the Cup years in Detroit, we talk about winning together and growing together and that’s what we remember looking back,” Shanahan said. “At the end of the day, we all found a way to fit with each other so that we could keep adding to the group and that’s obviously what we are asking some of our young leaders to do.”

And then on Tavares: “We see a great example with John Tavares, where we are able to attract a player like that who could have made more money elsewhere, who is still doing very well financially, but it was not his responsibility to set a new bar or to please other people with other interests. He is a hockey player. He wanted to come here and win hockey games. He wanted to be treated fairly and he is. That is what we hope for and expect from our players as we go forward. It’s not for everyone, but for the ones who play here, that is what they want.”

Of course, adding players or re-signing them in the NHL when Shanahan was winning Cups with the Red Wings was easier to do, considering there was not always the salary cap.

We’ll see whether Matthews and Marner shoot for anything less than the moon when contract negotiations become intense, and then, whether general manager Kyle Dubas can convince them that there might be another, less expensive, way to go.

So far, Nylander has not given in, and as a result, he remains without a contract.

Tavares is seen by the younger Leafs as a man who sets an example. So will players such as Matthews and Marner take less, like Tavares did? We’ll see.

Said Matthews: “That’s why we have agents, right? So let them figure it out, talk to management, we’ll stay out of it and just play hockey.”

Montreal Canadiens left wing Max Domi (13) celebrates a goal by teammate Artturi Lehkonen against the Toronto Maple Leafs during first period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Wednesday, October 3, 2018. (NATHAN DENETTE/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

DOMI REDUX

Strange to see ‘Domi’ on the nameplate of a Canadiens sweater, but there it was as Max Domi made his debut for Montreal after being acquired from Arizona during the off-season.

Tie Domi’s son is just as personable as the old man was during his playing days, but wouldn’t take the bait when asked whether the Habs could surprise some people this season, considering the expectations are not overly high.

“We know what we’re capable of,” Domi said. “We will keep that within our locker room. We’re going to try to win every hockey game. That’s never going to change. We know we have a lot of skill, a lot of speed, a lot of heart. We’re going to be a team that works hard every single shift.”

How about personal expectations? Domi had a career-high 18 goals and 52 points for the Coyotes in 2015-16 as a rookie, but scored just nine goals in each of the past two seasons. In his first season with Montreal, an adjustment will come to moving to centre.

“Expectations in this game are funny because it’s a team game, right?” Domi said. “And all we really care about is winning hockey games. Everything else is a sideshow. If you’re winning hockey games, nothing else matters.

“You look at the playoffs last year and you see Vegas go to the final and they weren’t even a team before that. You got a guy like Carey in net, it’s a great group and we’re meshing well.”

The Scotiabank Arena always will conjure good times for Domi. Truth be told, he was not often seen at the rink during childhood when his dad was a Leaf, but in 2015, helped create great memories when he helped Canada win world-junior gold at what was then the Air Canada Centre.

Domi was fourth in Canada scoring in that tournament, behind Sam Reinhart, Nic Petan and Connor McDavid.

“That’s going to be a highlight of most of our careers for a long time,” Domi said. “When you get to win a gold medal like that, representing the best country in the world, it’s pretty special. It’s something I will never forget.”

Maple Leafs centre John Tavares (91) scores during the second period on Wednesday, October 3, 2018. (VERONICA HENRI/TORONTO SUN)

POINT SHOTS

A hearty congratulations to the NHL for issuing a 20-game suspension to Washington Capitals headhunter Tom Wilson for his hit on the St. Louis Blues’ Oskar Sundqvist. The oft-suspended Wilson hasn’t learned, no matter what he makes in salary. And God forbid that Wilson comes back and says something along the lines of “I’m not going to change the way I play,” which players fall back on commonly. As for the Leafs, they won’t have to worry about Wilson when they visit the Capitals on Oct. 13 Buffalo Sabres star Jack Eichel was cooking dinner on Tuesday night when he got a phone call from coach Phil Housley and was asked to come back to the rink, where he was greeted by Housley, general manager Jason Botterill and team owner Terry Pegula and told he was being named captain. In related news, Matthews was not interrupted by anyone from the Leafs while making dinner on Tuesday night Tavares took no time to become a popular guy in the Leafs room and these kinds of thoughts will make him popular with reporters as well: “I don’t think it takes up too much time of your day after you practise to answer a few questions. It’s a fan base and a city that loves their Maple Leafs and cares about their team and there is a great history there and a great connection that way. I just don’t make it bigger than what it is. You guys do your job and I try to do mine.” All the best to Stan Butler, who has taken a medical leave of absence from the North Bay Battalion. Butler, the Battalion’s head coach and director of hockey operations, and the only coach the organization has had since its first Ontario Hockey League season in 1998-99, stepped away from the bench on Sunday.

FIVE TAKEAWAYS FROM THE GAME

  1. Hey man, nice shot

Auston Matthews devoted some time in the summer to working on his shot. Did anyone see the puck on his first goal? No. Carey Price certainly did not.

2. Dermott rising

How much longer before Travis Dermott is in the Leafs’ top four? One game, sure, but a poised opener for the 21-year-old defenceman.

3. Hard night for Hainsey

Ron Hainsey was caught flat-footed more than once, and often had a difficult time with the puck. He did help kill successfully three of the Canadiens’ four power plays.

4.  Fantastic Fred

In what could become a theme (again), Frederik Andersen saved his teammates’ bacon more than once, finishing with 34 saves.

5. Needs a boost

Andreas Johnsson’s energy was a thing to behold in the Toronto Marlies’ Calder Cup run, but he will have to demonstrate it more often, especially if Tyler Ennis and Josh Leivo eventually get bumped down the lineup.

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Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies