Young & reckless
Maple Leafs can’t keep up this pace — and they shouldn’t
On opening night at the Air Canada Centre, there was sound and cheers outside, new lights and slogans inside and on the ice were the Maple Leafs — brilliant and daring and dumb and careless and superb.
All on their way to a giant victory in a place where giant victories are now something to look forward to.
Mitch Marner, meaning to say something else, called his team empty-minded.
Mike Babcock, loved the big win on a big night, just not how they accomplished it. They’ll talk about this on Sunday morning. Probably on Monday morning, too.
“We know we can score goals,” said Jake Gardiner, who scored one goal, set up another in the 8-5 win over the New York Rangers, that sent Henrik Lundqvist, an eventual Hall of Fame goaltender, to the bench after one period of play, a mocking cheer from the crowd, and five goals against.
“We know we can defend,” said Gardiner.
Now all they have to do is show it.
What they need to do after two games and two wins and all that speed scoring 15 goals already is not trade chance for chance, not play run-and-gun, not give up so much of the ice, the way they did in the first period of the opener against Winnipeg and in the second period Saturday night against the Rangers.
One minute it was 5-1 this is easy, giggly, Leafs are unstoppable stuff. And a period later it was 5-5, hold your breath, backing up, how did this happen?, And can you hang on to win this game?
If there is such a thing, this looks like Don Coryell hockey in the early season.
The talent and speed the Leafs can throw at the opposition is, we know, breathtaking. And while Frederik Andersen can play the Grant Fuhr part for the 80s Edmonton Oilers while they learn how to win Stanley Cups, this isn’t Glen Sather coaching: This is Babcock. He won’t settle for 8-5. He’d rather have 8-2. The only thing he admires more than talent is order. Talent he has. Order he needs. “We have to stick with the process,” said James van Riemsdyk, who like the rest of his teammates is stunned yet not shocked by the 15 goals scored in two games. This isn’t sustainable. But what the Leafs can do almost every night is out-skill their opponents. Next up for the unbeaten Leafs: out-thinking them.
The Leafs won Saturday night and Auston Matthews really didn’t play the part of difference maker, Marner was mistake filled and too often tried to personally overcome his difficult night, and the Tyler Bozak line, with Marner and van Riemsdyk, perfectly represented the ebb and flow of the home opener.
They were minus-3 through two periods, outplayed most of the night. And then Bozak tipped the winning goal past Ondrej Pavelec on a lovely pass from Gardiner.
The shutdown line of Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov and Patrick Marleau ended with third period goals from Komarov and Kadri, and four points combined from the pair. In the first period, Zach Hyman scored twice, including an incredible and unexpected deke on Lundqvist.
Leafs were getting offence from almost everyone but those they expect the most offence from.
That’s what this team can do. Now they have to learn to eliminate the kind of first period and almost cost them in Winnipeg and the second period that almost cost them the win over the Rangers. “It wasn’t our best night,” said Gardiner. It wasn’t and yet they scored eight goals.
That’s what makes this team so much fun, so fascinating and yet so challenging. They can score and they can score fast. They can fall apart and then find a way to come back. They can score eight and get an off night from their leading scorer.
At the end of two periods, the 5-1 lead was gone and the game was tied at five. Babcock could have gone into the dressing room and done the yell at the team thing. Some coaches might have done that but the Leafs are blessed. Babcock isn’t some coaches.
He told them the game was tied and instead of looking back, look forward to the third period and win the damn game.
They out-scored the Rangers 3-0 in the third, scoring an even strength goal and two on the power play. They ended the night with five goals 5-on5, three on the power play, and no shots at the empty net. They could have scored nine.
“I don’t think we can keep this pace going,” said Gardiner.
About that, he is correct. The winning, though, that can continue. That’s a good thing.
Maple Leafs forward William Nylander carries the puck out of his own zone during the third period against the New York Rangers last night at the ACC. Toronto improved to 2-0 with its 8-5 home-opening victory, and has now scored 15 goals in two games.