There’s certainly been some high-flying action across the first two nights of the NHL season as teams look to shake off the rust following a short 10-day training camp and zero exhibition games.
For the seven teams that didn’t qualify for the expanded 24-team playoffs last season (such as the Senators) it’s been a 10-month offseason. For teams that were ousted early in the postseason (such as the Maple Leafs), it’s been about five months since their last game action.
That said, the Maple Leafs opened up their season with a 5-4 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday while tonight’s contest marks the season-opener for the Senators after they finished second-last in the NHL in last year’s abbreviated regular season.
With that in mind, let’s dive into the first edition of the Battle of Ontario as the rivalry is likely to get cranked up a couple notches this season given the strict intra-division schedule with the Canadian clubs facing each other as many as 10 times in this 56-game schedule!
The Maple Leafs notched the two points with a 5-4 overtime win over the Canadiens two nights back, however they were not the better team in that one.
The advanced metrics tell you that the Maple Leafs were the superior club, but the eye test revealed something far different.
A defense that ranked 26th last season was extremely sloppy again. It’s a re-vamped group that added top-pair blueliner T.J. Brodie in free agency and rugged bottom-pair defenseman Zach Bogosian as well, but Bogosian struggled in his debut, as did many of the Leafs’ blueliners.
At the end of the day, Montreal was far sharper than Toronto as the blue and white will look for a far better effort in this one.
That said, the offense showed little rust. William Nylander led the way with two goals and three points while John Tavares added three points of his own including a game-winning set up of Morgan Rielly on a 2-on-1 in overtime.
However, Auston Matthews looked in mid-season form with seven shots on goal and 13 shot attempts while Wayne Simmonds showed why he was brought on board, dropping the gloves with Habs defenseman Ben Chiarot in an effort to spark what began as a sluggish Leafs club.
It’s a Maple Leafs offense that ranked third last season and I’m not sure we should expect much regression from this elite young core, a group that was injected with some veteran leadership in Simmonds as well as 41-year-old Joe Thornton whose hunt for that elusive Stanley Cup continues in Toronto.
In goal, Frederik Andersen showed some rust.
Two of the Habs four goals went through Andersen and not around him, albeit one came on a Tomas Tatar breakaway. He wound up making 28 saves on 32 shots, but he too will look to bounce back in this one.
Andersen posted a career-worst .909 Sv% last season after showing remarkable consistency in working to a figure between .917 and .919 in each of the last four seasons. In what is a contract year, Andersen needs to be on his game if the Maple Leafs are to make good on their opportunity in this North division.
There is renewed hope for a frustrated Senators fanbase and a frustrated group of hockey bettors who bet on the Senators after a strong draft class in October, adding to one of the league’s best prospect pools.
Tim Stuetzle, the team’s third overall pick in 2020, will make his highly anticipated NHL debut in this one tonight. Stuetzle was recently named as the top forward as the 2021 World Junior Championship over the holidays as he is the lone Senator with any game action of late after posting five goals and 10 points in five games with Germany.
The Senators added the likes of Evgenii Dadonov, Derek Stepan, Auston Watson and Cedric Pacquette to their forward group over the offseason, adding experience, offensive production and grit to the lineup.
Another notable offseason move was the trade that brought in goaltender Matt Murray from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Murray is also coming off a career-worst season that included an .899 Sv% in what was his second subpar season over his last three.
That said, the two-time Stanley Cup champion gets a change of scenery and is the clear-cut No. 1 option in Ottawa ahead of backup Marcus Hogberg.
Whether Murray can bail out his blueline remains to be seen. By far the weak point of the roster, the Senators’ defense corps looks awfully thin behind top-tier rearguard Thomas Chabot.
They added the big Erik Gudbranson in the offseason, but Gudbranson is now on his fifth team for a reason. He’ll at least add some experience and leadership to the rebuilding Sens, but his slow feet make him a liability, especially against this high-octane Maple Leafs offense.
This is a Senators defense that ranked 30th overall last season, and despite some turnover, it’s going to be a group that struggles again this time around.
Maple Leafs vs. Senators Prediction
The Senators hired D.J Smith as their new head coach prior to last season, and the one thing that didn’t lack despite the poor end result was effort. Ottawa played hard every night, especially early in the season. I expect that to be the case again.
There’s also the fact that division games are rarely blowouts. While it’s a new North division this season, the Leafs and Sens have long been divisional foes, most recently in the Atlantic division.
The last four games between these two clubs have been decided by two goals or less. Toronto has won three straight and four of six against the Sens, but two season ago Ottawa actually won the season series 3-1.
All that being said, this is a tough matchup for the hometown Sens. Almost the entire roster hasn’t played since last March and there is no doubt there is going to be some rust. The Maple Leafs aren’t going to be in mid-season form, at least defensively, but at the very least they had a day off to iron out some kinks after Wednesday’s win.
While the Sens beefed up their forward group, it’s still a far inferior offense than what the Maple Leafs throw at you. They managed five goals against an improved Montreal defense and Carey Price on Wednesday, and this Ottawa blueline is going to have a major problem on their hands.
Even if the Sens can generate some offense in this one, they’re not going to be able to contain this Leafs team. On paper, the Maple Leafs are superior on offense, defense and goaltending while the club’s power play was lethal in going 2 for 4 on Wednesday.
I believe the Leafs skate circles around this Ottawa defense tonight and the offense shows out. Give me the Maple Leafs -1.5 on the puckline at valuable +128 odds.
As a recent addition to the GamblingSites.org team, James Peralta has been covering everything about casinos, sports, and laws that are specific to online gambling in Canada. James started writing about sports in 2007 during his first year at U of T Mississauga. ...
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