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WINNIPEG—The Maple Leafs started their season with an exclamation point.
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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Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault scored third-period goals for Winnipeg.
Matthews didn’t get the four goals like he did in his NHL debut last year, but he did add a pair of assists to his goal.
The Leafs big guns were their big guns, offensively, putting a lie to the theory — at least for one game — that Toronto wasn’t going to surprise anybody.
“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.:
Babcock’s fretting may have been grounded in reality, at least as the start of the game was concerned.
The Leafs took the first three penalties and trailed 9-1 in shots through the first half of the period.
Andersen held off the barrage before the Maple Leafs offence kicked into gear to take a 3-0 lead after the first period.
It started with Kadri, scoring on the Leafs’ only power play of the period. Every member of the power-play unit was in on the passing play that fed Kadri.
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.
Marleau scored again, 36 seconds into the third, chasing Mason from the game.
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.
The Leafs play the New York Rangers on Saturday in Toronto’s home opener.