Babcock, Maple Leafs win first coach challenge

via Sportsnet

via Sportsnet

Hockey is officially back and it feels sooooooo damn good.

The Leafs played Mike Babcock Hockey.

“We had good structure, we did a lot of very good things, we played hard enough,” said Babcock. “We can still get way better.”

Losing the first home opener may be devastating to some fans, but exciting at the same time. For the Toronto Maple Leafs, a win was not their first priority.

The Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t play poorly in their season-opening loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night with a 3-1 final score. Toronto controlled the play, finishing with more shot attempts – 66 to 65 – and shots on goal – 37 to 30 – than Montreal. If it wasn’t for Carey Price, the Maple Leafs could have easily won the game.

The Leafs worked hard, making a more talented opponent sweat for the two points. It didn’t take long for the Habs to realize they were facing a more determined group than the one they had seen in recent seasons.

“They are much tougher to play against than they were last year,” said Habs captain Max Pacioretty, who scored a pair of goals, one into an empty net. “They are going to surprise a lot of teams. They were definitely hard-nosed, in our face. Its obvious they all bought in.”

Captain Max Pacioretty scored on the Canadiens' first shot of the game, after the Maple Leafs took the play to the Canadiens early in the opening period. It was a shot Jonathan Bernier should have had, the puck rolling into the net after going off his shoulder and skate.

“Their goaltender was real solid, and ours was real solid after the first shot," said Babcock after the game. Babcock was satisfied with his new team after the game, as the club appears to be buying into what’s he’s been teaching, despite a difficult preseason. "We did lots of good things structurally, won a lot of battles. In saying all that I would’ve liked us to score better.”

Scoring will be an issue for Toronto. The departure of a Phil Kessel left a big hole on offence. Toronto allowed 16 shots in the second period, but just seven each in the other two periods. Overall, Toronto outshot Montreal 37-30.

James van Riemsdyk scored Toronto’s only goal, on the power play. He led the team in goals last season with 27, and will be expected to pick up some of Kessel’s missing production.

In seasons past, fans have revolted against the Leafs style of play late in the season by chanting, "Let’s go Blue Jays." With nothing to play for, the crowd would often shout it to voice their displeasure and get the season over with.

On Wednesday, however, with several Jays in attendance, the crowd chanted it in full support. The last time the Blue Jays were in the playoffs, the Leafs played out of the Maple Leafs Gardens. The audio below is the first non-ironic chant of “Let’s go Blue Jays” ever heard at The Air Canada Center.

“[Babcock] makes it very clear what he wants, there’s no grey areas in his system,” Price said. “As a player being able to watch that first-hand, that’s probably the biggest impression that I got."

“You can tell [the Leafs] were on the same page. They didn't give us a whole lot of good looks coming up the ice. I’m sure they’re going to get even better at that as the year progresses.”

Especially if the work, as it appeared Wednesday, has only just begun.