Flush it and move on.
Coaches and players say it all the time after a tough loss.
How about after a win, such as the manner in which the Maple Leafs went about beating the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night?
Well, a flushing would probably apply to the Leafs’ 2023-24 regular-season opener.
A 6-5 victory in a shootout, thanks to the only goal in the skills competition by Mitch Marner, rubbed some of the grime off the Toronto win at Scotiabank Arena.
But certainly not all of it. A level of stink remained as the building emptied.
Our takeaways from the evening, and we’ll keep reminding ourselves that the Leafs are 1-0 to start the season.
The notion that the Leafs won’t go far with the defence corps as it is presently built got some support on Wednesday night.
Gaffes were commonplace, and making it all worse, several resulted in Montreal goals.
When TJ Brodie fell at the Canadiens blue line, Jake Evans took the puck back down the ice and beat Ilya Samsonov on a breakaway just three minutes into the game.
When Alex Newhook scored 70 seconds into the second period, an odd-man rush was created for the visitors after Jake McCabe pinched in the offensive zone. That made it 2-0 Canadiens.
And when Jesse Ylonen scored at 11:55 of the third to put Montreal up 5-3, the chance was created when Timothy Liljegren fanned on a pass attempt in the defensive zone.
Call it first-game sloppiness if you want, but this is three veterans we’re talking about here. Bad ice? It’s not like the Leafs have never played on it before.
The miscues weren’t limited to the defencemen. There was general disarray among the Leafs for much of the game. After a day off on Thursday, the small details will get lots of attention on Friday at practice.
And this was the Canadiens, a team that many think will finish last in the Atlantic Division, as the opponent. The Leafs’ effort is going to have to be vastly improved on Saturday night against the sturdier Minnesota Wild at Scotiabank.
THE FORCE OF THE FOURTH
How unsightly was the victory? On a night when Auston Matthews recorded his eighth career hat trick in the National Hockey League, including scoring twice in the final five minutes to tie the game, coach Sheldon Keefe had a short answer when he was asked if there was anyone’s game he liked.
And it didn’t include Matthews, Marner, William Nylander or captain John Tavares, who had three assists.
“I thought our fourth line was outstanding,” Keefe said. “I thought (David) Kampf, (Noah) Gregor and (Ryan) Reaves were great.
“Reaves, the way he started the game, two great hits, gets the crowd involved, draws an instigator on a fight, gives our team every opportunity to score on the power play and was consistently good throughout the game.
“That’s what I take away from the game. I was really pleased to see that.”
We’re with Keefe on this. Never mind that Reaves got roughed up a bit in the scrap with Arber Xhekaj. Reaves, in eight minutes of work, demonstrated how he can be effective over the long haul with his physical approach.
And there certainly was chemistry on the line. When Gregor scored the Leafs’ first goal of the season, it was fitting considering he had to earn a job after coming in on a professional tryout. Gregor had 10 goals for San Jose last year, and with the quick, low shot he used to beat Montreal goalie Jake Allen, there’s no reason to believe he won’t score 10 for the Leafs this season.
Keefe later added one more name to his nice list: Defenceman John Klingberg.
“I thought he was great,” Keefe said. “Played with lots of authority with the puck, shot the puck when it was his turn to shoot it and moved it with confidence. He was a real standout.”
An upper-body injury stalled Klingberg through the preseason, but that did not impact him in his first game with the Leafs. He had two primary assists, and as Keefe alluded to, not only danced along the offensive blue line, but moved the puck with authority up the ice as well. It’s on Klingberg, who has struggled in recent seasons, to build on that on Saturday.
Leave it to Ilya Samsonov, who has a way with words, to properly sum up the night.
“Not fun game for goalies,” Samsonov said, “especially Toronto goalies.”
We would argue that it would be best to get Samsonov right back into the net against Minnesota. Samsonov had few of these off-nights last season and it’s difficult to imagine he would have two in a row.
He’s the No. 1 guy; Joseph Woll is the backup. Give Samsonov the chance to make it right in a Wild setting.
The final scoresheet shows that Samsonov allowed five goals on 24 shots, and anyway that’s sliced, it’s not great.
However, consider that Samsonov robbed Canadiens captain Nick Suzuki of a power-play goal in overtime, when Samsonov snared Suzuki’s shot out of the air with a flash of his glove.
And then the shootout: Suzuki, on Montreal’s first attempt, lost control of the puck. Next was Cole Caufield, who beat Samsonov but not the post.
After Marner scored, the Canadiens’ last hope was Kirby Dach. Samsonov made a pad save and the game was won. When the saves were absolutely required following what mostly was a rough evening, they were made.
“Tough game for him,” Keefe said. “Not a lot of action, big gap between shots, yet a lot of dangerous shots and dangerous looks.
“Like a lot of things, you get the two points and move on from it. He stood his ground when we shorthanded in overtime, and he was perfect in the shootout. So let’s build upon that.”