The Leafs began the new year on a positive note with a convincing 5-1 victory over their division rival Ottawa Senators Saturday night.
Looking to erase memories from a disappointing year in 2010, Toronto received balanced scoring from its top two lines and excellent goaltending from an inexperienced freshman in James Reimer.
Clarke MacArthur opened the scoring at 1:57 of the first period, by launching a slap shot from the right circle over Senators goalie Brian Elliott. MacArthur capitalized on a rebound generated from a Tomas Kaberle point shot.
Tyler Bozak gave the Leafs a 2-0 lead midway through the first period on his sixth goal of the season. Phil Kessel started the play at the blueline in the Leafs zone after Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson coughed up the puck while entering the zone. Kessel forced a 3-on-2 break and initiated a skillful setup with line mate Joey Crabb.
Three minutes later, Bozak built on the lead with his seventh of the season and second of the game. It was the first multi-goal game of his young career. Joey Crabb and Phil Kessel were credited with the assists. The newly recalled Crabb has four points – all assists – in five games with Toronto this season. Kessel’s assist gives him 11 on the season, along with 14 goals. It was his sixth multi-point effort of the campaign and second time in the past three games.
Elliott was pulled from the Senators net after three Toronto goals within a span of 13 minutes in the first period. Mike Brodeur replaced him in his first appearance with the Sens this season. That did not stop the powerful Toronto attack, which posted two more goals in a two-and-a-half minute span in the second period.
Darryl Boyce banged his first career NHL goal past Brodeur on a rebound from Kris Versteeg. The 26-year old Boyce has only played in three games over his career, notching two points. Despite his injury troubles this season, Boyce earned a call up after Mikhail Grabovski was absent due to his expecting girlfriend.
“It’s just such a weight off my shoulders,” said Boyce. “I didn’t come in here expecting to score goals, but it’s just simple things like shot on net, drive the net, pick up a rebound, it was great.”
When asked about playing with linemates Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong, Boyce said, “They are great guys to play with… Made it real easy out there.”
Luke Schenn scored his second goal on a point shot that beat Brodeur along the ice. There was traffic in front of the net, which fazed Brodeur on the play. Tomas Kaberle and Nikolai Kulemin earned helpers on the goal.
An ongoing feud between Colton Orr and Chris Neil throughout the game set the scene for a scrap between two hard-nosed players. Orr and Neil squared off at 12:26 of the third period, with the decision going to Orr after unloading a series of right fists on Neil. Both players received a 10-minute misconduct and were ejected from the game.
Senators power play quarterback Sergei Gonchar notched his fifth of the season with a solid one-timer from the point on the man advantage, with Karlsson and Daniel Alfredsson getting the assists.
The Senators outshot the Leafs 33-31, including 22-11 through the final 40 minutes. Reimer stopped 32 shots in his first appearance. Of those shots, 26 were even strength, while six were on the power play. He came within one save of recording his first shutout in his first career start in front of friends and family in attendance. Brodeur turned aside 12 of 14 shots after relieving Brian Elliott, who only had four saves in the first frame.
“It’s one of the best games I’ve been us play since I’ve been here,” Reimer said after the game.
The Leafs will tangle with the Boston Bruins on Monday night at the Air Canada Centre, in the third meeting of the season between the two teams. Jonas Gustavsson is likely to get the start in net, while Kessel will look to get on the scoresheet against his former team.