Some of the greatest games in the history of hockey have ended in 6-5 scores.
Wednesday night’s Maple Leafs season opener, ending in a 6-5 shootout win for the Leafs, was not one of those.
Canada-Russia in 1972 ended in a 6-5 score with “(Paul) Henderson scoring for Canada.”
Team Canada played Russia three times in the finals of the Canada Cup of 1987 — maybe the greatest three hockey games ever witnessed — all ended in 6-5 scores.
Those games you should never forget. This one you will struggle to remember.
“What did you take from a game like this?” coach Sheldon Keefe was asked after the Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens in a sloppy, listless, occasionally careless 6-5 win.
“Two points,” said Keefe.
That was about all he could say after the win. There wasn’t much to applaud. There wasn’t much to believe in. There wasn’t much to point to and say — now there’s something different from years gone by.
Keefe did say he liked the Leafs fourth line. Newly signed Noah Gregor scored a goal. Newly signed Ryan Reaves fought and occasionally got the rather uninvolved crowd at Scotiabank Arena involved. David Kamph battled. That represented about 10 minutes of ice time.
The other 50 minutes, including a somewhat hopeless night from starting goalie Ilya Samsonov, were reasons to turn the channel if playoff baseball was more compelling than it has been in recent days.
“It was all over the place,” said Keefe, and coaches are not known for liking teams that are “all over the place.”
“There’s a lot of things we can do better.” Like be organized. Like take care of the neutral zone. Like win 1-on-1 battles. Like not being the second fastest team on the ice. Like being the second best passing team and maybe the least responsible defensively of the two playing.
And this was Game 1, between the Leafs of high expectations and the Habs of almost no expectations, the kind of game that seems rather unexplainable considering the excitement level for the start of a new season. These are the Leafs, supposed to be one of the better teams in hockey, at home, with a crowd that didn’t bother to care for so much of the game, followed by a team that seemed to follow the crowd.
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has committed $350 million to renovate the rink: Can they spend a few more bucks and bring in some fans who will make noise and bring atmosphere to a place where hockey is supposed to matter every day of the year?
The Leafs, however, are fortunate to have Auston Matthews, who may have set a record of some kind in Game 1. He opened the season with a hat trick, including the two come-from-behind goals late in the third period that sent the game to overtime. Matthews wasn’t at his best. He wasn’t particularly dominant or great.
He opened the season with a hat trick which looks wonderful in the box score on Thursday morning. He knows he wasn’t great. He probably knows he wasn’t even very good. But Matthews’ talents are so extreme and Montreal’s goaltending and defensive play is so wonky that Matthews is one of the few players in hockey history who can play just so and momentarily take the NHL lead in goal scoring on the very same night.
“Sometimes you have to find a way to win ugly,” said captain John Tavares, who understood that from his teams with the New York Islanders. “And we did that tonight.”
It was Tyler Bertuzzi’s first night as a Leaf and he didn’t seem to exactly fit with his choice new linemates, Matthews and Mitch Marner, who won the game with a shootout goal. This was like watching ballroom dancers who had never danced together before. One step in one direction, one step in the other: Nothing really in sync.
This was Max Domi’s first night as a Leaf and he would probably like to trade it in. He wasn’t particularly sharp, at times wasn’t particularly smart, had little impact one way or the other on the win or the five goals given up.
This was the first NHL game for the kid Fraser Minten. What a training camp he had: What an ordinary opening he displayed. A few more games like this one and he’ll be back in the Western Hockey League. As Josh Donaldson used to say, this isn’t a try league, this is a produce league. It’s too early and too harsh to write Minten off: But understand this, the NHL doesn’t wait for players. The clock may be already ticking on his time in Toronto.
Other concerns for the Leafs on opening night: A struggle for TJ Brodie, who struggled most of last season. An aggressive but slopping night from Morgan Rielly, of whom so much is expected. That’s the Leafs’ No. 1 pair on defence. They have to be better than this. They can’t give up so much space, especially when Samsonov was Reaves in goal: He was fighting the puck.
This was not a game for Keefe to study on tape. It was more a game of taking the two points, being thankful, and looking ahead, not backwards.
They got two points in the home opener. The standings say the Leafs are undefeated.
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