Toronto Maple Leafs John Pohl sends Ottawa Senators Antoine Vermette into the boards during NHL regular season action in Toronto Wednesday. (CP/Adrian Wyld)
Martin Gerber's outstanding goaltending and goals from Patrick Eaves, Chris Neil, Christoph Schubert, and Daniel Alfredsson earned Ottawa a 4-1 victory on the opening night of the NHL season Wednesday.
All Gerber would allow was a goal by Mats Sundin on a penalty shot after the Senators had gone up by three.
The Senators started a season on the road for the ninth time and they remained unbeaten as Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his 10-year-old son Ben sat among the 19,520 who filled Air Canada Centre.
The traditional appearance of the bagpipes of the 48th Highlanders was followed by a touching ceremony in which banners were raised with the likenesses and sweater numbers of Red Kelly and the late Hap Day, who both wore 4, and Borje Salming, who wore 21.
For the first time since the 1930s, a minor-hockey player was on the ice with the starting five Leafs skaters for the anthem. Austin George, 11, of Kitchener was thrilled to be the first selected.
The Leafs weren't so thrilled when Ottawa grabbed a 1-0 lead at 19:29 of the first period on a power-play goal by Eaves.
Wade Belak was serving his second penalty of the period when Dany Heatley passed the puck from behind Toronto's net to the onrushing defenceman Tom Preissing. Andrew Raycroft made the save, and Eaves got to the rebound before Bryan McCabe to lift it into the open side of the net.
Preissing left the game early in the second period when he suffered what his team described as a lower body injury.
Neil finished off a 3-on-2 rush with some slick stickhandling to make it 2-0 at 10:13 of the second. He got behind Hal Gill for a Dean McAmmond pass and, as he neared the crease, he pulled the puck to his backhand and tucked it behind Raycroft.
A bad-angle Schubert shot caromed in off Mike Peca's skate at 11:29 for a 3-0 Ottawa lead.
Sundin gave the Leafs some life less than a minute later. He put on a burst of speed to get a breakaway, Anton Volchenkov pulled him down, and he was awarded a penalty shot. Gerber, who'd stopped everything the Leafs had thrown at him, got a piece of the wrist shot and dropped to the ice. The puck was barely moving when it emerged from his pads. It crossed the goal-line and stopped no more than four centimetres into the net.
The Leafs came on strong but couldn't get another puck behind Gerber before the second period ended.
The Senators controlled the first 10 minutes of the third with tight checking and solid positional play from Gerber.
Raycroft also had a solid game. His left pad save on a Heatley breakaway with nine minutes left kept Toronto from falling further behind. When Neil was sent off for interference seconds later, the Leafs had a glimmer of hope.
They couldn't capitalize and finished the game 0-for-5 on power plays. Ottawa was 1-for-6.
Notes: Some longtime Leafs fans must wonder why Bob Baun, who also wore 21 and played defence, wasn't honoured before Salming. Baun was a pillar of strength on all four of Toronto's championship teams in the 1960s, finishing one unforgetable series on a broken ankle . . . Nik Antropov missed the opener with a right ankle injury and Pavel Kubina served his one-game suspension for cross-checking Detroit's Jiri Huddler on the chin in the pre-season finale Sunday . . . Eva Avila of Canadian Idol fame produced one of the finest renditions of O Canada ever heard in ACC . . . Ottawa and Toronto play again Thursday night in Ottawa. CBC has the game at 7 p.m. ET in Ontario, except Windsor, and east. Windsor and viewers west of Ontario get Vancouver's opener at Detroit.