|Toronto Maple Leafs players celebrate Phil Kessel's goal against the Montreal Canadiens. (Craig Robertson/QMI Agency)
Not to suggest it's time to plan the Stanley Cup route, but these are not yesterday's Maple Leafs.
"One game. We're not getting carried away. It was a little ugly ... at times," Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. "Last year this is a game we'd probably have gotten tied."
Instead, Exhibit A of the 2010 season was not horrible which automatically makes it an upgrade over what has been passed off as an NHL team here the past five seasons. OK, there were warts suggesting this might not yet even be a playoff team but at least they're better than the club that last season was still looking for its second point eight games into the schedule.
This may not be a championship season but it is an autumn with hope. It's been a while since Leafs Nation could realistically claim even that.
Even the opening ceremonies seemed a little less drab, a little less predictable. Sure, the Leafs dragged out Johnny Bower, everybody's favourite grandfather, just to prove they once did win something more than misplaced admiration. And, the 48th Highlanders were there, but as one press box wag noted for once they didn't clear the zone better than the Maple Leafs.
The Canada's Team video began with Dion Phaneuf and morphed into a girl collecting vials of water from every province that went into making the Leafs' home ice -- a nice sentimental touch, although it does set them up to be losers in 10 provinces rather than just one.
But on the first Morning After of 2010, it's time to accentuate the positive and the first hint that this is a different Maple Leafs' team came 6:42 into the game. Tim Brent scored.
There are folks on their living room couches who are as close to being a Maple Leaf as Brent was last year at this time.
"A little nervous but more excited than anything," said Brent. "It's kind of a dream being a Leaf fan growing up, being here opening night and scoring..."
Right. Whoever heard of a Maple Leaf third liner who could actually find the net without an assist from Garmin in bygone years. Right Lee Stempniak? Hello Jamal Mayers. Gone and best forgotten.
Then there's Jean Sebastian Giguere who is no Vesa Toskala. Unless your home address is Mars, it will be common knowledge that's a good thing. This was especially apparent early in the second when he got an arm on Andrei Kostitsyn's laser high to the short side. Then, with seconds ticking away he twice stopped shots to save victory.
"I was holding my breathe. Good goalies find ways to make those saves," Clarke MacArthur said.
The Leafs' hopes didn't die every time one of them stepped into the penalty box. That's novel.
Last year they were the 30th best team in the NHL at killing penalties which for you folks who have run out of fingers means they made the odd mistake. Very odd. Very often. Last night newcomers Colby Armstrong, Kris Versteeg, Brent, Mike Brown and holdover Fred Sjostrom killed three in a row to start the second period.
There were still too many giveaways, evidence that the worst powerplay in the league isn't entirely laid to rest. On Montreal's opening goal Carl Gunnarsson gave the puck away and Mike Komisarek got caught flat-footed.
Komisarek may want to skip season-openers, at least the ones against Montreal. He gave up the puck behind the net on Montreal's second goal and you could almost hear him sigh all the way back to last year when he was the goat with 15 minutes in penalties in a 4-3 loss to his former team.
So, it's not all beer and cheer. But last year they lost the home opener to these same Habs. Today they're two points better. Everything starts with baby steps. And, when things go awry, as they will in weeks to come, it might be good to remember that two years ago the leading scorer was Jason Blake and after him it was Alexei Ponikarovsky and name your poison.
Today they have Phil Kessel, a sniper in anyone's books, and MacArthur who just looked like a sniper last night. He scored with such a nifty move on the Habs' defence that they've still got a search party trying to figure out where he went.
"I couldn't," he said, "ask for a better beginning."
Neither should anyone else.