While getting off to a good start during the regular-season can certainly be important and may be a harbinger of things to come, I’m not sure how a team performs on opening night is necessarily pivotal—or a key to the season ahead.
That’s a long held view on my part. While I can’t produce “science” to back up my claim, I just don’t get too cranked up about the “first” league game and its meaning.
If the Leafs win, great. If not, the world is not falling apart.
Think back to last season. Toronto beat Montreal in the opener, and went on to win three more. Things looked good, eh? But we all know the rest of that story. That is not to suggest the Leafs didn’t do some nice things last year, especially in the last couple of months, but the early four-game winning streak, in theory, should have been the “good start” that we all crave for the team. But it made precious little difference last season.
So while there was certainly a build-up for fans and the players (and playing the Habs made it a little more exciting) it is only one game, as they say.
But a win is a win. And a shutout—in front of fans who have been waiting for a win that truly means at least a little something for, well, a long time—is even sweeter, especially against the team’s longstanding rival.
All that said, what are some basic take-aways from Game 1?
- Well, Reimer did nothing to make me feel there was any slippage in his game since the last time he played a meaningful (if we can call the second half of last season for the Leafs ‘meaningful’) encounter. Does this mean he will have a great season? Who knows, but it was a nice start, for sure.
- One short-handed goal does not mean our woes in that regard are solved. But it doesn’t hurt to win face-offs. And for Lombardi, personally, that goal had to feel good for a whole lot of reasons. More importantly, perhaps, not giving up against the Montreal power-play goal (they were 0 for 5) is a start, at least.
- One shift stood out for me fairly early in the second period. Montreal had a three-on-two, but Kessel skated hard to get back to help break up the attack, and immediately created an opportunity going the other way. Now, we will need to see that a lot from Kessel this season, including during those periods of the long schedule when players are tempted to take their foot off the pedal on certain nights. The Leafs need everyone—including their few “stars”—working hard all over the ice most nights.
- Surely it is a good thing, not a point of concern, that the Leafs have enough depth on the blueline that Franson is an early-year healthy scratch and Aulie is with the Marlies. That roster depth will come in handy before too long, you have to think.
- I liked that Kulemin was finding those empty spots (where Brett Hull lived for years) to set up some good scoring chances for himself. He just missed up high on a couple of occasions but he’ll have plenty of success going ‘top shelf’ this season.
- Like many games last season, Kessel sure had a number of open ‘looks’. Some of those are going to go in this year. There were nights last season when he had tons of shots at the net and the puck just wouldn’t go in. A little better “luck” might be in order this season.
- I’m really pulling for Gunnarsson to play the way I feel he can, right from the get-go this season. For whatever reason, last year he didn’t quite seem to be at his best on a consistent basis. I just continue to feel there is something that might be quietly special in him. We’ll see.
- I’m assuming the Leafs will spend time during their retreat next week working on the power play. They’ll have lots of time to work on systems, special teams, etc.
- Management and Wilson want to see some of their defensemen join the attack at the right time, Phaneuf among them. So we can assume they were pleased to see the captain hammer home the game’s second goal, so nicely teed up by Kessel after Phaneuf saw an opening and took off.
- Komisarek has been a lightning rod for fan dissatisfaction the past two seasons. Based on one night (which isn’t much of a sample size, as I mentioned at the outset of this column) might he, as I have suggested in this space in the past, be able to regain the confidence—and the form—he once exhibited when playing for the Habs? He played 17+ minutes of good hockey Thursday night. We’ll see.
Whatever the value of “opening-game” observations, when players and fans are all cranked up, it was, again, a nice result for the first game of the season.
I’ll be more interested to see where things are at after the ten-game mark.