When Patrick Marleau scored his first career NHL goal in October 1997, Auston Matthews was one month old.
On Wednesday night, during the opening game of the 2017-18 season, Marleau and Matthews connected on the type of highlight reel goal that Leafs fans have been frothing at the mouth to witness since Toronto signed the 38-year-old as a free agent.
The tally was part of an offensive barrage in Toronto’s 7-2 romp over the Winnipeg Jets at Bell MTS Centre. The Leafs rebounded from a sluggish, confused start to the first period and promptly reeled off three goals before the intermission.
Nazem Kadri opened the scoring on the Leafs’ first power play, awarded after the team was left to kill three consecutive minor penalties. James van Riemsdyk and William Nylander took advantage of some shaky netminding from Steve Mason to extend Toronto’s lead.
Cue the first goal in a Leafs uniform from Marleau; a ritual that he had performed 508 times as a member of the San Jose Sharks.
Marleau, driving towards the goal, accepted a seeing-eye backhand from Matthews and faked Mason with a spectacular deke for the milestone marker with his new team.
For good measure, Marleau fired a one-timer in the slot in the third period to chase Mason from the game.
The other two goals were scored by a couple of guys named Mitch Marner and, oh yes, Auston Matthews. Last year’s Calder Trophy winner had been held without a shot on goal before tipping the puck past Connor Hellebuyck to round out the Leafs’ scoring.
So, should we start planning the parade down Bay Street? Well, not quite.
Absolutely the Leafs were deserving of the victory. But lest the Toronto fan base be tempted to anoint the blue and white clad team as Stanley Cup champions for the first time in over a half-century, there is still a plethora of game film that coach Mike Babcock will be scrutinizing.
The opening period score flattered the Leafs, who were disorganized, uninspiring, and forced into taking the aforementioned three penalties to start the game.
The defence looked statuesque – in terms of mobility, not physique – on Winnipeg’s late goals by Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault.
Frederik Andersen was frequently left to his own devices in the Leafs net, particularly in the opening twenty minutes. He made 35 saves for the win.
With a surplus of offensive weapons in the Leafs’ arsenal – complemented by the ageless Marleau – there will be plenty of dazzling highlights for Toronto fans this year. The degree to which the firepower can offset the club’s mediocre back end will dictate their amount of success.
In 2016, Rob wrote “Hockey’s Enforcers: A Dying Breed”, now available at Chapters and Indigo stores everywhere.