The Maple Leafs, struggling to find one line that can score for a couple of years, now have three of them filling the net through their first two games.
Playing just like a team that has gone hungry for the puck far too long, Toronto jumped on numerous Ottawa Senators gaffes for a 5-1 win on Saturday at the Air Canada Centre.
As was the case in Thursday’s 3-2 win over Montreal, players on all three lines figured on the evening’s score sheet. Toronto is now 2-0, both division victories, its best start since 1999-00.
Top gun Phil Kessel was expected to defend his team scoring title from last season and has two goals and an assist so far, but that has been matched by Clark MacArthur, who added his second goal and set up linemate Nikolai Kulemin for the game’s opening goal in the first chapter of this season’s Battle of Ontario. While Toronto’s schedule has been lax to start, Ottawa had to play the night after a home-opening 2-1 loss to Buffalo.
And then there’s third-line centre Tim Brent, who has already doubled his 20-game NHL career total with Saturday’s strangest goal. Brent picked off a clearing attempt by Ottawa goalie Pascal Leclaire that nearly decapitated him, turned and fired at the short side from a bad angle that Leclaire snagged. Sensing the puck had crossed the line first, Brent began celebrating, but it was waved off at ice level.
An excruciating five-minute wait followed as the NHL’s Toronto office searched for a clear replay, settling for one that showed the puck through the webbing of Leclaire’s glove. By that time, more than 19,000 at the ACC were in celebration mode at the first back-to-back home wins to start a campaign since ’99.
Toronto takes its act on the road to the new arena in Pittsburgh on Wednesday and then it’s on to Manhattan.
Kris Versteeg wielded a power play dagger, Toronto’s first man-advantage goal of the year, early in the third by tipping in a Tomas Kaberle shot. That made it 4-0, with Brent’s following.
Jason Spezza broke Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s shutout bid at 7:11 of the third, before the first fight card of the season slowed the finish.
A curious thing from the Leaf playoff days was their inability to make much headway in the Battle on Ontario — until April when they consistently bumped off the Sens. But since the start of 2008-09, Toronto is now 8-5 against Bytown, some small consolation while being sidelined in the spring.
Coach Ron Wilson, who was rhyming off statistics earlier in the week about teams scoring first winning up to 70% of their games, saw the Leafs score in under seven minutes for the second time in as many games.
Spezza, a near scratch because of a groin injury, was stripped of the puck by MacArthur, who relayed to Kulemin for a shot that squeezed through Leclaire’s pads.
When the score was close, the Leafs continued to do the little things right in their zone, notably chipping or lofting the puck out whenever danger lurked. Their second goal was another turnover, after Francois Beauchemin blocked a shot off his visor. Erik Karlsson lost the puck to Versteeg, whose speed on the ensuing odd-man rush resulted in a scoring chance that Kessel finished off for his second of the year.
Even hiccups led to goals. The struggling Mike Komisarek needed about three whacks at a puck near the blue line, but from there, the second line seized it, drove the net and it resulted in MacArthur’s second goal with a neat snap shot.
Thanks to three Ottawa penalties, Toronto held a near 3-to-1 edge in shots after 40 minutes, but Leclaire still made some big saves, such as on a nice Brent tip, to keep it close.
Coming back with the same winning lineup was a rare luxury for Wilson last year and Colby Armstrong recovered from a blocked shot in the opener to make it perfect attendance.