The NHL’s long-awaited start to the season was marred at home by a 2-1 overtime loss Monday to the New York Rangers, their first United States-based opponent in more than 19 months.
Artemi Panarin stabbed the dagger into a savage fourth period.
Mika Zibanejad, who now enjoys nine years of contract security, brought the Rangers to the fore with a dazzling wrist shot. The center’s explosion caused the netcam to ring so quickly that a video review was required to confirm the puck had indeed beaten Jack Campbell on the out and back.
For the third time in four games, the Maple Leafs have dug an early hole to crawl.
Michael Bunting crushed the crease in Morgan Rielly’s attempt early in the second period to tie the score at 1-1.
“Whether he scores or not he’s competing at a very high level,” coach Sheldon Keefe said of Bunting, an instant fan favorite.
“He’s engaged in the game, and he’s engaged every shift. He wants to score. Of course, everyone wants to score, but it’s very obvious – it’s obvious – that he’s going for it. He’s not afraid to go to areas where a goal is more likely to arrive. He is in combat every day. That’s what I like about him. “
There was a lot to love about the Leafs’ second period, as they outscored their US visitors 17-2, but second Igor Sheshterkin was rock solid, making 40 saves on the evening.
Three times the Maple Leafs have implemented their new power play. William Nylander and Rielly won back-to-back posts in a single flurry. Still, the highly skilled unit fell to 0 to 3 with the advantage of the man.
The good news: Matthews didn’t look rusty at all, much to Rangers coach Gerard Gallant’s dismay.
The top center swept away the draws, tearing up eight shots on goal, a game-high, and generating plenty of chances.
“It makes us a deeper team,” Keefe said. “The challenge for us – or the opportunity – is to keep doing the things we used to do. You can’t change anything with Auston’s return. You know what he is for our team and what his presence means, but the individual [performances] and the way we play doesn’t change.