Toronto, which dropped seven of eight contests against Ottawa last season, lost its NHL season opener 4-1 to their Ontario rivals at Air Canada Centre. A chance at redemption comes quick with a Thursday night affair at the Scotiabank Place. It was a shaky start for two of the new faces in the Leafs lineup.
Defenceman Hal Gill, signed on July 1, looked as slow as adverstised, Senators winger Chris Neil blowing past him on the second goal. Not what you want to see in the new NHL where speed and skill is as paramount as ever.
For new goalie Andrew Raycroft, it was a tale of two games, jittery early on before recovering to play a splendid second half.
"I felt good out there," said Raycroft. "It wasn't a terrible start but I wanted to get the win."
Acquired in a draft day gamble from Boston by GM John Ferguson on June 24, the 26-year-old Raycroft gave up a few fat rebound early on, including one to Patrick Eaves which the Senators winger gladly scooped up and redirected into an open side on Ottawa's opening goal with 31 seconds left in the first period.
Raycroft looked weak on the third goal midway through the second period, Christoph Schubert's shot along the ice from an acute angle somehow sqeezing between the goalie's legs.
"That was a weird one," said Raycroft. "It went off somebody and caught my back leg."
But Raycroft settled down, winning the praise of his new fans late in the second period when he stopped star centre Jason Spezza on a clear breakaway, a big save that kept his team two goals down and with a fighting chance entering the final period. Another big breakaway save on Heatley midway through the third period signalled Raycroft had indeed shaking off the opening nerves.
Still, on a team that will be on the bubble to make it into the post-season, Raycroft will need to be great, not just good on most nights. He'll need to steal a few. Between Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour, the Leafs enjoyed top-level goaltending for seven years, which served to cover the team's other warts and make them consistent playoff performers.
The onus on Raycroft shutting the door will especially be key in a season where his team isn't expected to score too many goals. That was apparent on opening night, the Leafs' power play shut down on five chances and their five-on-five pressure not producing enough chances. That leaves Raycroft with very little margin for error this season, although captain Mats Sundin disagreed when asked about his team's low-octane offence.
"A lot of the younger players on this team have proven they can score goals here and in other leagues," said Sundin, who scored his team's lone goal on a penalty shot. "This team, offensively, is as good as other years, teams that had 100 points. I really believe that."