Leafs go for two in a row as Senators open season

The Toronto Maple Leafs won their season opener on Wednesday and will be out to spoil the first game of the season for the host Ottawa Senators on Thursday.

Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell made 31 saves Wednesday as Toronto defeated the visiting Montreal Canadiens 2-1.

Petr Mrazek will start in net for Toronto on Thursday.

Campbell might have won the Wednesday game in the first few minutes with several stellar saves during Montreal’s fast start.

“He was on fire,” said Maple Leafs right winger William Nylander, who scored what proved to be the game-winning goal at 1:06 of the third period. “It could have been 2-0, 3-0 from the start. We came out pretty slow.”

There was a large crowd in Toronto for the first time since March 2020 thanks to the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions. Fans still had to be fully vaccinated.

“It was fun,” Campbell said. “To have everybody back in the building, it was electric. I think the crowd gave us an advantage to get the two points.”

A key to the game was Montreal’s failure to score on a five-on-three power play early in the third period, with Toronto defenseman Justin Holl contributing a sprawling shot block.

“I think I should have had that seam in the first place, so that probably never should have happened,” Holl said. “But it always feels good to make a big play for the team.”

The Senators will be without left winger Brady Tkachuk, a restricted free agent who has yet to sign, on Thursday.

Even if a deal were reached before the game, Senators coach D.J. Smith said that the 22-year-old would not be ready to play Thursday despite the fact that he has been skating in Ann Arbor, Mich., while missing training camp.

“He’s not going to be playing in the opening game,” Smith said Tuesday. “It’s two days from now and he’s still in the (United) States. We’ve got to go without him. Someone’s going to have to step up and be better. Someone who wasn’t in the lineup is going to be in the lineup.”

Smith said it would probably take Tkachuk seven to 10 days before he would be ready to play.

“No matter where you skate, and if you’re not skating with NHL players, it takes you a little bit to get up and to get going,” Smith said. “I wouldn’t want to put him in a bad spot, but if he’s here, he’s a pretty good player. As soon as we can get him in, we can get him in shape and then we can get him going.”

Thomas Chabot and Artem Zub have established themselves as Ottawa’s top defense pair with Nick Holden and Nikita Zaitsev likely to form the second duo.

In Tkachuk’s absence, Tim Stutzle could be on the first line with Josh Norris and Drake Batherson.

Nick Paul, Shane Pinto and Connor Brown are expected to form the second line.

Injuries to Colin White, Austin Watson and Clark Bishop forced some decisions on the third and fourth lines. Parker Kelly, who signed to a two-year contract extension Tuesday, will be in the mix with Logan Shaw, Zach Sanford, Scott Sabourin and possibly Tyler Ennis.

Matt Murray is the Senators’ No. 1 goaltender, but he has been dealing with a non-COVID illness this week, so Anton Forsberg could start Thursday.

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