The Maple Leafs left their starts in Toronto but still managed to shutout the Senators 4-0 in pre-season action Wednesday, led by a three-goal performance by Michael Bunting.
Bunting signed a two-year deal with Toronto this past summer and is looking to impress his new employer.
The 26-year-old forward is on his first one-way contract and where he fits with the Leafs in remains to be seen. At this point, he’s not overly concerned.
“I’ll be busting my [butt] no matter where I am,” said Bunting. “Whether it’s first line, second line, third line, fourth line. I’m bringing my game wherever it is.”
For the Ottawa Senators, the best thing about Wednesday night’s game was that it won’t count in the standings.
Senators head coach D.J. Smith was the first to admit his team wasn’t very good.
“Thank God it’s an exhibition game,” said Smith. “We didn’t have the puck a lot, we didn’t shoot a lot, we just didn’t play anything the way we want to play.”
David Kampf also scored, while Josh Ho-Sang – invited to camp on a professional tryout – picked up two assists.
Petr Mrazek wasn’t overly busy and stopped all 19 shots he faced in the Toronto net.
Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe was impressed by his group’s tenacity.
“The one thing I was really surprised by in pre-season Game 3 is the energy of the team, the positivity,” said Keefe. “The competitive spirit of the group was really strong. Really impressed with the effort.”
Ottawa’s Filip Gustavsson, who played the first two periods, allowed three goals on 25 shots. Mads Sogaard allowed one goal on seven shots in relief.
The Leafs rather innocuous lineup gave the Senators a challenge right from the start. Ottawa – who had a number of veterans playing – seemed to lack any kind of intensity and were flat for much of the game.
“It’s good in the long run because you don’t want that to happen in the regular season,” said Smith. “That’s just not the way we play. We had no physicality, we never got on the inside, we didn’t shoot pucks.”
Bunting scored his third of the night in the final 90 seconds of the game.
“He’s as hungry as anyone to score,” said Keefe. “To get off to the start he has in the pre-season is a tremendous sign for him and us.”
Toronto was 3-for-8 on the power play, while Ottawa went 0-for-5 with the man advantage as they struggled to create any momentum.
Smith admitted that maybe some of his veterans were guilty of looking at the Leafs lineup and underestimating their desire. Without its big stars, Toronto players were looking to make an impression and they did just that.
Ottawa veteran Nick Paul said it was a good reminder that you can’t take anyone lightly.
“I think everyone knows those games happen and it’s what we do in those moments to be a good team,” said Paul. “You know you’re not going to have your best game every single night, but you’ve got to find ways to get it done.”
Two second period power-play goals by Bunting gave the Leafs a 3-0 lead.
His first came off a nice pass from Ho-Sang, and just over two minutes later, he picked up his second of the night as he tipped in Rasmus Sandin’s point shot.
The Leafs opened the scoring in the 13th minute of the first period as Kampf was able to redirect a shot to beat Gustavsson. It was a tough break for the Ottawa netminder as he had just made two nice saves.
Provincial health regulations allow currently allow for 50 per cent capacity, equal to 9,326 fans, at Canadian Tire Centre, but the building was surprisingly empty Wednesday.
Ottawa will be back in action Friday night as they play the first of a home-and-home series with the Montreal Canadiens.
Zach Stanford, acquired Saturday in a trade with the St. Louis Blues for Logan Brown, made his Senators debut Wednesday night. The Senators signed forward Zack Ostapchuk, drafted 39th overall in 2021, to a three-year, entry-level contract earlier on Wednesday.