As we sit here on a quiet Sunday morning, there is a sense of satisfaction around the Leafs Nation. A sense of satisfaction that has rarely been felt in the last decade.
Brendan Shanahan promised us they had a plan. He promised us they had a vision. Many of us were skeptical, mocked the mantra we had heard repeated many times over by previous regimes that lived in the MLS&E offices in Toronto.
I truly believe this rebuild was done in the correct manner, and will a little bit of luck included we are finally heading in the right direction as a franchise.
Witness last night at the ACC. The 100th anniversary of a club that used to have the swagger, talent and confidence that knew their teams would win. Numbers retired based on elite levels of play, success, and skill.
Many times in the past, a ceremony similar to that would have the crowd clapping politely only to have the team on the ice, after the festivities, fall flat on their faces. Not this time. Not this group.
The hometown Leafs opened the scoring on an excellent effort by Connor Brown. Selected in the 6th round of the Draft, Brown has no idea in his own head that he cannot accomplish something. He simply works his posterior off, and refuses to quit on a play. Couple that with a solid set of skills and you have a kid who is playing on the 4th line but could easily be playing in the Top 6 and will someday. This is another ‘feel good’ story and fans will enjoy watching this young man for many years.
Connor Brown goal pic.twitter.com/LghDrRZhGi
— Stephanie (@myregularface) October 15, 2016
Right off of the next draw, Nazem Kadri and David Backes renew acquaintances again this year with another spirited fight. Kudos to the much maligned Kadri for fighting a much larger (and spot picker) Backes. A team trying to establish identity will need a few of these defining moments and it was great to see Nazem step up when the bell was rung.
Fellow young star, Mitch Marner scored his first goal of his NHL career and the first of what should be a boat load for the Blue and White. After taking a pass that was slightly behind him, Marner kept his accelerated pace through the neutral zone and sniped home a beauty of a wrist shot. That was no muffin, but more importantly it was perfectly placed.
Marner goal pic.twitter.com/OMkbEuJnZ8
— Stephanie (@myregularface) October 15, 2016
The Maple Leafs started the season with 6 goals by Rookies (4 of which were scored by Auston Matthews in Game 1) which was unprecedented. Finally a veteran must step up, and JVR finally did just that. On an excellent feed from Tyler Bozak, and a bit of distraction in front of the net by Mitch Marner, JVR takes the pass and goes backhand for a goal that puts the hometeam up by 3 goals just over half way into the first period. The ACC and fans at home are loving every minute of it.
After a Marner penalty, the Bruins cut the gap to 3-1. No real chance on the goal by Fredrik Andersen and yet he was still blamed for it. More on him in a bit.
Milan Michalek closed out the scoring on an excellent feed from Morgan Rielly. Michalek starts sifting to the net and is clearly calling for the puck, wherein Rielly puts the puck directly on the tape for perfect redirect goal. The score was 4-1 vs. the Bruins and some demons from the past started to echo in the mind of Leafs fans.
Fear not, this isn’t the type of team that will collapse in epic form. Two reasons, structured play from a Mike Babcock system and players willing to buy into it.
The Leafs were outshot 25-24 in this contest but solid goaltending from Fredrik Andersen was exactly what this team AND fanbase needed. The massive off-season acquisition had a .960 save percentage on the evening and only gave up one goal that was scored on the powerplay. Andersen looked much more confident between the pipes, as he is rounding into better game shape after suffering a shoulder injury during preparation for the World Cup of Hockey. One thing that most Leafs fans did not know about Andersen is his ability to move the puck, that skillset will allow him to clear the zone like he did last night during the penalty kill. This not only protects his D-man from getting run thru the glass but also slows down the forecheck. Something to keep an eye on.
As a final note, it was great to see the much maligned veterans of this team contributing. A rough first game by a group that should be leading, instead of following was reversed in game #2. Attention to details, making simple plays were a major part of this winning formula on a Saturday evening at the ACC.
So there you have it, 3 out of 4 possible points to start the 2016-17 season. Those points are acquired versus two teams that are not the best in the league but always seem to be irritants for our Blue and White.
Hope you are enjoying this ride, it’s way more fun than last season already.
Next Game: Wednesday, October 19th @ Winnipeg 8pm ET.