The Toronto Maple Leafs took on the Ottawa Senators in the opening night match-up of the 2019-20 season. Despite the disparity in talent of the two teams, the Senators have played the Leafs tough recently, winning three of the four games against the Leafs last season. Wednesday night’s match-up started on a similar note. Brady Tkachuk scored the first goal of the 2019-20 season, putting the Senators on top 25 seconds into the game.
Though the Senators got off to a great start, the Leafs roared back on their way to an opening-night win. The big story of the night may be Auston Matthews two-goal game, but a deeper look reveals a different reason for the Leafs’ victory. The Maple Leafs’ new additions to the lineup played a major role.
Toronto Maple Leafs New Faces Produce
The Maple Leafs stepped on the ice a much different team than they were a year ago. In total, Toronto featured seven players that did not suit up in a game for the Leafs last season. These seven players are forwards Alexander Kerfoot, Nick Shore, Dmytro Timashov, Ilya Mikheyev, and defenders Rasmus Sandin, Cody Ceci, and Tyson Barrie. Four of these players found the score sheet. One thing that jumps out among this group is that only Barrie and Ceci are expected to play big minutes. In the case of Ceci, this is likely only because the Leafs’ defence is shallow.
However, their influence went far beyond the basic numbers. Though it’s just one game, the Maple Leafs may have assembled a solid team of depth players with their new additions. Be it through penalty killing, controlling play, or providing depth scoring, the new Maple Leafs provided a spark.
Penalty Killing Proficiency
Of all the Maple Leafs departures, the biggest hit may have been to their penalty-killing unit. Mainstays Nikita Zaitsev and Ron Hainsey went to Ottawa, and Zach Hyman will miss the first month of the season with an injury. With spots up for grabs, the new Leafs starred on the penalty kill.
Ceci, Shore, Timashov, and Mikheyev all saw time killing penalties. The unit was perfect, snuffing all three of the Senators’ powerplay opportunities. Special teams is always an important part of winning hockey games, and it’s something the Leafs did not do well enough last year. During the 2018-19 season, the Leafs killed penalties at a 79.9% rate. If the new additions to the Leafs can continue to improve upon this effort, Toronto should prosper.
Controlling the Play
Barrie, in particular, starred as a possession driving player for the Leafs. The defender, who arrived to Toronto along with Kerfoot in a trade for Nazem Kadri, finished the game with six shots on goal. To go along with his six shots, he also registered two assists. Barrie also served as the facilitator for the second powerplay unit. Barrie could be the high-end possession-driving right-handed defender the Leafs have desperately needed, and he looked like it in this game.
The Leafs retooled lineup found their way onto the score-sheet all night. This featured multiple players registering their first NHL points. Timashov had an assist on the Leafs’ first goal of the game, Mikheyev and Sandin got the helpers on the second goal, and Mikheyev slammed home a goal in the third period. Mikheyev impressed for the Maple Leafs in the pre-season, and he proved tonight that he can provide value in “real” games too.
At the conclusion of the game, the Toronto Maple Leafs news faces had contributed to three of their five goals, accounting for six points total. The Leafs are loaded with stars, but to achieve their goal of playoff success, they’ll need a balanced attack. If tonight is any indication, Toronto’s front office may have assembled a deep lineup with productive new players.
TORONTO, ON – OCTOBER 02: Ilya Mikheyev #65 of the Toronto Maple Leafs prepares for a face off during an NHL game against the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Arena on October 2, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)