We’ll take it.
That was coach Randy Carlyle’s message after the Toronto Maple Leafs eked out their third straight win, taking the home opener 5-4 in a shootout over the Ottawa Senators.
The game was hardly won in pretty fashion, as the Senators took 2-1 and then 4-2 leads, chasing Leafs starter James Reimer by the midway point in favour of Jonathan Bernier.
But with Ottawa taking seven minor penalties (to just two for Toronto), the Leafs capitalized twice on the power play and got shootout tallies from Mason Raymond and Tyler Bozak to improve to 3-0-0 to start the season.
“We hadn’t played very well in the hockey game,” Carlyle said of the game’s turning point, which he pegged as when winger Joffrey Lupul pulled his team to within one late in the second period. “Coaches aren’t here to cut up wins. Let’s not overanalyze. We didn’t play to the level we’re capable of playing. It’s more of a hockey game we played in parts and were sloppy throughout it but we still found a way to get two points.”
There were plenty of areas to be critical of for both teams.
Ottawa blew a two-goal lead, spent far too much time in the box and had a hard time containing Toronto’s top players in close. The Leafs made several key turnovers (with defenceman Cody Franson particularly guilty) and didn’t get enough saves as Reimer allowed four goals on just 21 shots.
On the flip side, Sens centre Kyle Turris and Raymond both had three-point nights as part of what was an offensive showcase right from the start.
In all, the game had 78 shots (42-36 for the Leafs) and several key momentum swings, with what Carlyle called “sloppy” hockey proving to be terrifically entertaining for the sold out Air Canada Centre crowd.
“Bernier was very good, but we have a two-goal lead, we have to win the game, plain and simple,” said Sens captain Jason Spezza, who had his first of the season on the goal that chased Reimer in the second period. “A two-goal lead is one we have to take home if we want to be a good hockey club.”
Even so, the man behind the winning bench was hardly doing backflips in his postgame press conference.
“When you play as sloppy as we did tonight, there’s a long list,” Carlyle said of improvements he wants to see defensively. “Obviously we’ve got to play a tighter brand of hockey. And we know that.”
Leafs additions come up big
Overall, however, it was a good night for Leafs GM Dave Nonis’s roster makeover.
With three regulars out of the lineup due to suspensions (David Clarkson) or injuries (Nikolai Kulemin and Mark Fraser), Toronto’s depth forwards like Raymond and linemate David Bolland had excellent games, showing strong chemistry and earning big time minutes.
Add in Bernier’s strong showing in relief, and it was a glimpse of what Nonis and Co. had been hoping to bring in over the summer.
Former combatants in the Vancouver-Chicago rivalry, Raymond and Bolland were probably the biggest revelation and, in the small sample size so far this year, appear poised to have rebound seasons in their new home.
The Leafs outshot the Sens 12-6 at even strength and had a 58 per cent Corsi rating with Raymond and Bolland on the ice, putting them first and second on the team on the night.
“He’s a heckuva player,” Raymond said of Bolland. “He’s won two Cups and he’s done it all. It’s showing on the ice right now in how well he’s playing. It’s enjoyable to play with him.”
Raymond capped his big night with the shootout winner, as his slow motion spinorama fooled Sens netminder Craig Anderson.
The NHL had toyed with the idea of nixing the move in shootouts in the offseason but ultimately couldn’t get approval from players to make the change and so they’ve remained.
Even so, the Senators offered a small protest on the ice after Raymond scored what was ultimately the winning goal for an extra point that could be big come April.
“I think it’s a very unfair play for the goaltender for the guy to come in and blow snow on him,” Sens coach Paul MacLean said. “To me, he came to a full stop and the puck came backwards and came forwards. But that’s me. I’m only the fisherman from Nova Scotia so I don’t know nothing from nothing.”
“At the end of the day, I’m going out there doing my move,” Raymond said. “I’ve done it in the past and I’ve been successful with it. It raises some eyebrows, but so far, I haven’t had anything go wrong with it.”
Carlyle didn’t see what all the fuss was about.
“It went in the net,” Carlyle said when one reporter asked about the goal being controversial. “Where didn’t you understand?”
The three absent Leafs opened holes for three different rookies to make their NHL debut on Saturday, with Morgan Rielly, Spence Abbott and Jamie Devane all drawing in.
Abbott and Devane played sparingly (less than seven minutes), but Rielly was given a regular shift, logging more than 18 minutes alongside Cody Franson.
The pair was on the ice for three of Ottawa’s goals, but that was more a fault of Rielly’s veteran partner, who had a tough night all around.
“I thought as the game went on he got better,” Carlyle said. “You got to see more of what he’s about… he’s a young kid that’s got skill and he earned [the ice time]. You can see he can separate himself with his skating ability, he can read plays. He just needs to get the speed under him at the NHL level.”
“It was a pretty cool feeling,” Rielly said of his debut, which he made in front of parents Andy and Shirley, who flew in from Vancouver. “It was pretty heated obviously… I think it was obviously a change of pace but once I got used to that I was pretty comfortable.”