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The goaltending was great and the offence was as hot as advertised. And though there were flaws, the Maple Leafs’ 101st NHL season got off on a winning note, with Toronto downing the Winnipeg Jets 7-2 Wednesday night.
One of the few new faces in what has become a stable Leafs lineup — Patrick Marleau — joined the usual suspects in picking apart a suspect Winnipeg defence and a sometimes confused Steve Mason in net. Marleau scored twice in his Leafs debut.
Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, James van Riemsdyk, William Nylander and Nazem Kadri also scored for the Leafs while Frederik Andersen put on a clinic in net and silenced Bell MTS Place, one of the loudest buildings in the NHL.
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“People know who they are,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “It’s not like they didn’t know who (Auston) Matthews was last year. But now they really know who he is. It’s like any player in the league, you’re trying to get better each and every year and the best players find ways to get better.”
Babcock had wondered just how hungry his team would be. There was a fear the team might sit on its laurels. He wasn’t all that impressed with their efforts each night in training camp. But he had expressed hope the regular season would wake them up.
“I haven’t seen that (hunger) yet,” Babcock said before the game. “We’ll see if it happens. There’s going to be a whole new level of excitement, of enthusiasm, of physicality, of speed. That’s what you get measured on.:
Then van Riemsdyk was gifted the puck off a draw, surprising Mason.
Mason was out of position for Nylander’s goal, set up by Matthews taking most of the Jets defenders with him to one side of the ice while Nylander waited on the other.
Marleau scored for the Leafs in the second period, skating with Matthews and Mitch Marner on a line that was put together only because of all the penalties. Marner came out of the box, having served a bench minor for too many men. He fed Matthews, who fed Marleau, who deked Mason to finish a pretty 2-on-1.
The game wasn’t always pretty, as far as the Leafs were concerned. Penalties were a problem, especially weird ones. Leo Komarov was called for equipment violation for wearing his visor too high. It was readjusted so he could play the rest of the game. Oddly, Komarov doesn’t have to wear a visor, having joined the league before visors became mandatory.