On May 31st, the Leafs showed up to the Scotiabank Arena to play an all-important Game 7 against the Montreal Canadiens, only to not show up at all, and lose the game.
Four and a half months later, they started off tonight’s game with the exact same effort, but at least learned from their mistakes and managed to win their first game of the season for the fifth season in a row.
Like I said, the Leafs came out flat, but that seems to be a common recurrence in this current era of the Leafs, so I don’t think too many people were concerned just yet. And of course, the Montreal Canadiens opened the scoring as well, as Jonathan Drouin scored a feel-good goal that I don’t think any fan was too mad at after returning from his leave of absence to improve his mental health. But, that’s also pretty common for the Leafs, so once again, fans weren’t too concerned.
Once the halfway point of the first period was reached, the Leafs seemed to find their feet and put in a much stronger effort for the remainder of the period, even getting a couple opportunities to try out the new power play system (albeit, without Auston Matthews), one of them resulting in a goal from *checks notes* Pierre Engvall. That’s right, Engvall scored the Leafs first goal of the season… on the power play. That makes absolutely no sense, but also makes perfect sense for this team.
The Leafs continued to carry the momentum into the second period, but it didn’t result in any goals, and wouldn’t end up with one until the beginning of the third period, when William Nylander ripped a vintage slapshot a la Jason Spezza to give the Leafs the game. The Habs got a bunch of power plays after that, including a 5-on-3 power play after a Mitch Marner pentalty *has flashbacks to Game 6*, but the Leafs, and especially Jack Campbell, would stand tall and hold on for a 2-1 win.
Overall, it was a pretty good game for the Leafs, especially considering the fact that they were playing without their best player, but thankfully the defense and goaltending put in a strong effort, and a couple of Swedes took advantage of some opportunities to give the Leafs the two goals they needed.
Third Star: Pierre Engvall
For a guy who many had slated out of the lineup this season, he continues to make it difficult for the Leafs to do so. After a couple strong games in preseason, he had another fantastic game tonight, has he saw 60% of the shot attempt share and 56.25% of the expected goals at even strength when he was on the ice, and always seemed to be around when the Leafs had scoring chances tonight. He also proved that his power play goal in the preseason wasn’t entirely a fluke, scoring again at 5v4 tonight (although it shouldn’t be as much of a surprise as it is considering he scored at a first line rate at 5v5 last season).
Second Star: William Nylander
The undisputed MVP of the Leafs disappointing playoff series last season, Nylander continued his clutch scoring ability tonight with the game winning goal. Ah, William Nylander and clutch. I can just feel his haters typing up the hate comments in the replies as I say it. Also, while the Tavares-Marner unit was kind of just average possession wise (52.17% of the shot attempt share, 50.53% of the expected goals), Nylander crushed it on his line (72.22% of the shot attempt share, 80.67% of the expected goals) facing similar competition, and he also led all Leafs in both categories individually. Another strong start to the season for Willy.
First Star: Jack Campbell
The Leafs are probably out of this game before it even started without Jack Campbell. The Montreal Canadiens came flying out of the gate and were generating chances like crazy, and Campbell stopped all but one of them, a two-on-one cross crease goal that he shouldn’t be expected to stop. After that, the Leafs took over, got the lead, and Campbell held down the fort, even when he wasn’t facing a ton of shots in the second. There’s some doubts where Campbell’s 2021 season was sustainable, but if he’s looking to prove them wrong, this is an excellent start.
40th Star: Mike Amadio
Look, he had a really good camp, and I respect the hell out of him for making the team. But that fourth line just didn’t do much of anything, and considering we know that Spezza and Simmonds are at worst competent on the Leafs, it’s easy to spot who the weak link probably was.
By the Numbers
Tweet of the Night
They’re fully vaccinated. https://t.co/53zplZSFcq
— Justin Fisher (@thejustinfisher) October 13, 2021
This has to be one of the funniest owns of Nylander haters I’ve ever seen, and the fact that this was tweeted before the game Nylander had makes it even better.
Look, the Leafs aren’t going to prove anyone wrong by winning this game, or any of the next 82. That comes in the playoffs. But, they put in a good game that entertained fans, and at the very least, we should enjoy the ride to the playoffs. That’s not to say it was perfect (could they start on time just once PLEASE), it’s not a bad one for the first game of the season.
You aren’t going to get too much of a break, as the Leafs are right back at it tomorrow with a game in Ottawa… even though they then come back to Toronto on Saturday to also play the Senators. Why not just let the Leafs have a back-to-back without travel? I don’t know, that sounds too easy. You can catch the game on TSN at 7pm EST.
The Leafs are back, whether you like it or not.