We Must Be Seeing Something Special
To the 2019–2020 Toronto Maple Leafs; you had my curiosity, and now you have my attention.
There were moments during the game tonight that I simply could not and would not believe the pure offensive skill that was on display in front of my eyes. It was surreal, sublime, euphoric, and an all-around good sign of things to come in the sport if these Toronto Maple Leafs are to be the new template for the National Hockey League and their soon-to-be 32 franchises.
I simply cannot overstate it: you have to like these Leafs. There’s electricity inherent and sufficient to them that makes me leave my seat even though I’m sitting in my living room, in Texas, a thousand miles away. Matthews to Nylander to Marner. Tavares to Johnsson to Kapanen. There are a permuted 1,320 different combinations of forwards that could fill in the scoring line for goals on this team, 7980 if you account for their defensemen. Everyone can do everything. This team is *that* modular, and it is (I bet), fear-inducing for opposing Coaches to have to make their lineup on paper when you consider the different line combinations that Mike Babcock can create.
As you could probably tell from my introductory passages, I was fanatic of the game that the Leafs were able to end up playing against the ill-matched Ottawa Senators. They weren’t without their imperfections, however. They would concede the first goal of their young season a mere 24 seconds after it started, and to Brady Tkachuk of all people. Admittedly, I didn’t see it, but it is public knowledge going back to last season that Leafs fans and the team themselves have ached, moaned, and gnashed their teeth over their team’s inability to begin games on-time. The beginning of this one doesn’t help that narrative. If I were I a Leafs fan, however, I would start to look at the larger story; your team doesn’t need a quick start.
I was admittedly skeptical once I saw the Leafs were down mid-way through the first, just before I was able to turn on the game. As a casual fan of the sport, I had paid attention to their plight through the middle of the season last year. Can this team continuously score their way out of holes? Maybe not last year, but that was Leafs 1.0. These Leafs are new and improved. Tyson Barrie, Alex Kerfoot, and Ilya Mikheyev join Auston Matthew, John Tavares, Morgan Rielly, William Nylander, Mitch Marner and the infinitely long and dense list of talent that this squad trots out on a nightly basis. This team makes Cody Ceci look decent. That alone should speak volumes.
The first period ended with a small push, but Craig Anderson looked unshaken by whatever artillery the Leafs had thrown his way to that point. When the Leafs came out in the Second, they flipped the switch to “kill”. Gauthier, 2:20 1–1, tie game. Trevor Moore from Ilya Mikheyev and Rasmus Sandin (First NHL points for the both of them) at 4:42, 2–1. Scott Sabourin would score after a “defensive breakdown”, which was really just a missed high-sticking call in the neutral zone 2–2 tie. Matthews from Nylander at 8:02, 3–2 Leafs. Possibly the goal of the season, and we’ve only played 1.5 periods in Marner to Matthews at 14:50 on the power play, 4–2(the eventual GWG). The Ottawa Senators lost this game in less than a period of hockey. Let that sink in. The Leafs put this game on the top shelf, shortly before telling the Senators it was their bedtime. It was astounding in all senses of the word. Leads change all the time in hockey, but rarely ever do teams just flip the switch to “on” and completely dominate like what we saw in this game.
I mean, that’s all there really is to talk about. That’s all I wanted to write about. Ilya Mikheyev scored his second of the night and first in the NHL in the third to really ice the game. Bobby Ryan scored after that. Regardless, the Leafs walked to a win at the end of their home opener. It was technically close at some points, I guess? I just cannot find a place where any deficit looked out of reach to this team.
These Leafs are not just contenders. These Leafs are murderers, marauders, and destroyers of everything you hold dear. They can hurt you at 5 on 5 with all four lines. They look dangerous on the power play with both of their units, and you could argue they might be able to field a third powerplay unit from the leftovers. They even look threatening on the penalty kill. (Let’s just say that Thomas Chabot had to chase down more than one potential breakaway tonight). It all feels unfair, but I must bear witness to what I have seen. This is potentially the most offensively talented lineup in the NHL right now. They look like the Harlem Globetrotters. They must be in control. They have to be. Too many ways that they can hurt you. Too many weapons. Who cares if they start the game down 1–0? That’s just a head start. The tortoise wins in the end, don’t you know?
Look, I know this all sounds hyperbolic. It was game 1 of 82. Maybe you’ve already stopped reading. Any and every character flaw present in these Toronto Maple Leafs will be exposed over the next few months by the infamous Toronto media. We will all know soon enough if they’re the real deal, and this blurb may age poorly because they might not be. But just for a second, can you imagine a world where the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup and is there any time where that would have been more realistic than right now with this incarnation? Who knows?
What we do know is that this team is magical. This team has potential. This team was built to win right freaking now. Personally, I have never seen a team which makes my jaw drop as much as this one does. I’m looking forward to the next 81 games.