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Leafs Notebook: Week 1

Buds Are On Fire

I’m breathing heavily as I type this because I just finished watching the Leafs win an exciting overtime game in Toronto, beating Chicago 4-3 on a bullet by Auston Matthews.

I’m not sure 3-on-3 hockey is good for my heart, but this team sure is fun to watch!

But first things first, let’s start at the beginning.

OCT. 4: TORONTO V. WINNIPEG JETS

The Leafs opened the season in Winnipeg Wednesday night to take on Patrik Laine and the Jets.

But the No. 2 leading rookie scorer last year (second to the Leafs’ Matthews) barely made his presence felt, as Toronto and its top goalie, Frederik Andersen, kept Laine and the Jets in check. Despite three consecutive penalties to the Leafs, Winnipeg failed to capitalize. Meanwhile, the Leafs scored on their first power play, thanks to Nazem Kadri, who made it 1-0 Toronto at 15:45 in the first. Less than two minutes later, James van Riemsdyk scored to give the Leafs a 2-0 lead. William Nylander scored 43 seconds later and the Leafs led 3-0 after the opening period.

Patrick Marleau scored at the halfway point in the second period on a pass by Matthews to give the Leafs a 4-0 lead. It was Marleau’s first goal as a Leaf and Matthews’ second assist in the game so far. Toronto led through 40 minutes of play, thanks in large part to the heroics of Andersen who kept the Jets scoreless through several power plays along with great penalty killing by the Leafs.

Marleau scored his second goal of the night early in the third to make it 5-0 for Toronto, forcing Winnipeg to replace its goalie and sending Leafs Nation into a frenzy. Although this was a road game for the Buds, Toronto held a tailgate party at Maple Leaf Square outside the Air Canada Centre, which saw thousands of fans show up to watch the game on a big-screen TV on this warm, beautiful fall night.

Leafs Nation had much more to cheer about after Mitch Marner scored his first goal of the year, on the power play, increasing the Leafs’ lead to 6-0. Then the Jets scored their first goal of the night (Mark Schiefele), but Winnipeg’s celebration was short-lived as Connor Carrick scored 26 seconds later to make it 7-1 for the Leafs. Matthews got his third assist on the goal. Winnipeg scored a minute later (Mathieu Perreault), but it was too late for the Jets, as the Leafs were just too dominant. Andersen stopped 35 of 37 shots and kept the Jets off the scoreboard during eight power plays over the course of the game.

OCT. 6: MARINCIN, PICKARD TO MARLIES; ROSEN RECALLED

The Leafs announced that Martin Marincin would be “loaned” to the Leafs’ AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, after clearing waivers, and that Calle Rosén would be recalled from the Marlies.

The Leafs also acquired goalie Calvin Pickard from the Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for forward Tobias Lindberg and a sixth-round draft pick in 2018. Pickard, who has a 15-31-2 record and a .904 save percentage in 50 games with Colorado in 2016-17, has been assigned to the Marlies.

OCT. 7: TORONTO V. NEW YORK RANGERS

On Saturday, the Leafs played the New York Rangers in their first home game of the season and they did not disappoint the sold-out crowd at the ACC.

The Buds scored five goals in the opening period, chasing the Rangers’ goalie formerly known as King, Henrik Lundqvist, out of the game after the first 20 minutes of play. (He regained his title the following night with a 2-0 shutout against the Montreal Canadiens, but on this Hockey Night in Canada, the king had been reduced to a mere prince.) At one point near the end of the first period, the crowd sarcastically cheered a Lundqvist save and he held up the puck in his glove to show the fans he had it. Or he was giving them the finger. Either way, it was not a good night for Lundqvist, who let in goals by the Leafs’s Dominic Moore, Zach Hyman (two), Jake Gardiner and Nikita Zaitsev in the period. The Rangers scored two (J.T. Miller and Kevin Shattenkirk) in the first.

Backup goalie Ondrej Pavelec replaced Lundqvist in the second period and that somehow gave New York the impetus to score three more goals (Mika Zibanejad, Marc Staal and Mats Zucarrello) to tie it up 5-5. The Leafs were basically AWOL in the second.

But the Buds came back with a vengeance in the third period with a goal by Tyler Bozak to regain the lead by a score of 6-5. The goal was reviewed on an offside challenge by New York, but it was ruled a good goal and the Rangers got a two-minute penalty for losing the dispute, as per new NHL rules on offside challenges. Leo Komarov scored on the Leafs’ power play, which got the crowd going and powered Toronto to a win following another power play goal, this time by Kadri. The Leafs’ 8-5 victory gave the team a total of 15 goals in two games, proving there’s nothing wrong with their offense. Their defense, however, could still use a little work.

OCT. 9: TORONTO V. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

It was Thanksgiving Day in Canada and Leafs Nation had plenty of reasons to give thanks. Three of those reasons were Matthews, Zaitsev and Connor Brown, who were the Buds’ shining stars on this holiday Monday.

Toronto started off pressing hard in the Chicago zone early in the opening period, but they just couldn’t put the puck past the Blackhawks’ backup goalie Anton Forsberg, who played well throughout the night. About halfway through the first, the Leafs began looking like they had overindulged on Thanksgiving dinner and got lazy in their own zone, giving up control of the puck and then taking a few too many penalties. Chicago capitalized on the Leafs’ defensive mistakes with two unanswered goals (Jan Rutta and Jonathan Toews) in the first period, although, to be fair to Andersen, both of them got by him on lucky bounces. Shots were almost even, with Chicago edging out Toronto nine to seven.

The Leafs came back more energized in the second period, likely after receiving a good talking-to by coach Mike Babcock, who’s not shy about calling out the slackers. Whatever he said worked, because the Leafs outshot the Blackhawks 16-9, finally getting one past Forsberg and cutting the lead in half. The goal by Zaitsev was set up by Brown, with the rookie Rosén getting the other assist — his first-ever NHL point.

Chicago scored (Richard Panik) on the power play in the third period to increase its lead to 3-1, quieting the fans at the ACC. But Brown got the Leafs’ back within one with a goal on a pass by Zaitsev with seven minutes left to go in regulation time and the sold-out crowd erupted once again with chants of “Go, Leafs, Go!” The Buds seemed energized by the fans, outshooting Chicago 14-6, but they were still down 3-2, and they got a lot of penalties, mostly for slashing. Then Chicago got its own slashing penalty and the Leafs capitalized, as Bozak sent a shot toward the net that bounced off the skate of van Reimsdyk to tie it up with less than five minutes to go in the third.

Momentum was on the side of the Leafs in overtime, as they dominated the play. Chicago never had a chance as Toronto kept possession of the puck until Matthews scored a searing shot past Forsberg with 1:17 left to go in OT to the delight of Leafs Nation, which feared a shootout — something the Leafs are not good at (although they have yet to be tested this season). It was edge-of-your-seat hockey during the 3-on-3 play, the first overtime period of hockey for the Leafs this season.

The 4-3 win over Chicago puts the Leafs at the top of the Atlantic Division, undefeated with a record of 3-0.

As Andersen told media after the game, “We like winning.”

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