Maple Leafs dominate Jets, 7-2
WINNIPEG, Manitoba — First, the bad news for the Toronto Maple Leafs: They took eight minor penalties in their season opener.
Now the good news: Their penalty killing was a perfect 8-for-8.
The special teams dominance on the ice translated directly to the scoreboard as the Leafs out-everythinged the Winnipeg Jets in a 7-2 victory at Bell MTS Place, formerly the MTS Centre.
The visitors took three penalties in less than nine minutes early in the first period and were temporarily under siege, but Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen had an answer for everything the Jets threw at him.
When Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba was sent off for hooking at the 15-minute mark, the Leafs wasted no time in turning the tide. Just 45 seconds later, center Nazem Kadri swatted home his own rebound past Steve Mason, and if you didn’t know better, you would have thought the game was being played in downtown Toronto.
The many hundreds — maybe thousands — of jersey-wearing Leafs fans were on their feet two more times before the opening period was done.
Right winger James Van Riemsdyk doubled the lead at 17:40 on a broken play following an offensive zone faceoff, and center William Nylander made it 3-0 on a delayed penalty call just 43 seconds later, sending the Toronto faithful to plan their Stanley Cup parade route.
Newly acquired center Patrick Marleau scored a pair of goals for the Leafs, and sophomore centers Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner added one apiece.
The Jets, trailing 6-0 near the midway point of the third period, ruined Andersen’s shutout bid when Mark Scheifele scored. Fellow center Mathieu Perreault added another goal in garbage time.
However, if it weren’t for the acrobatics of Andersen early on, Leafs coach Mike Babcock thinks his troops could have been singing a different tune.
“Anytime your goalie plays well, you’ve got a chance,” Babcock said. “Freddie had a good camp and it showed here tonight. He gives us confidence.
“We took so many penalties. The goalie had to be so good early. You know how hockey is, if they score on one of those early and they get confidence, who knows? The game could be different, especially in their building. We were able to make a few adjustments on our penalty kill, and we scored timely goals. You don’t have to worry about scoring goals when you score right away.”
Andersen said he hoped if he could withstand the early barrage that his teammates would find their legs. As luck would have it, they also found their hands.
“We made the best of our opportunities,” Andersen said. “It’s good to rebound like that. You want to attack a little bit more, but after the first 10 minutes, I think we did a good job.”
With the NHL’s new crackdown on infractions, Andersen is prepared to face a lot of galvanized rubber in the coming weeks.
“There are going to be a lot of penalties called this season,” he said. “Hopefully we can figure that out soon. Every player is smart. I think we can adjust and not take as many.”
The Leafs scored a pair of power-play goals on four opportunities, but it was Marleau’s second goal of the night that chased Mason, the prized free agent acquisition who has been tapped to turn around the Jets’ sub-par goaltending the last few seasons.
Mason gave up five goals on 20 shots. His replacement, Connor Hellebuyck, surrendered two on 11 shots.
Jets winger Nikolaj Ehlers, who signed a seven-year, $42 million contract earlier in the day, said Kadri’s goal seemed to change the game, and Winnipeg couldn’t reverse the trend. Then things snowballed quickly.
“I think we came out the way we wanted to,” Ehlers said. “We played hard, we played fast. We put it to the net and got a lot of shots through. I think they got a couple lucky bounces.
“It went pretty bad after that. We played really good at times. We’ve just got to find the net a little more on those chances and bear down defensively.”
Jets captain Blake Wheeler said the Jets’ inability to score with the man-advantage was key, particularly after Winnipeg scored practically at will on the power play during the preseason.
“We were doing everything but scoring. And then we took a penalty and kind of let a greasy one in,” Wheeler said. “From there, you blink and it’s 3-0. We weren’t able to dig our way out of it.”
NOTES: The Jets were the hottest team leading into the season opener, riding a seven-game winning streak to end the 2016-17 season, a franchise record. ... Jets RW Patrik Laine led the NHL last season with a shooting percentage of 17.6 percent among all players who took at least 200 shots. He had no goals and two shots on target Wednesday. ... The Maple Leafs lead the all-time series with the Jets/Atlanta Thrashers franchise 31-18-1-8.