TORONTO – The first round of this all-Swedish matchup goes to the veteran.
Daniel Alfredsson used a nifty backhand deke to beat compatriot Jonas Gustavsson on a penalty shot and the Ottawa Senators spoiled The Monster’s debut with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night. The Senators captain is a player Gustavsson grew up idolizing, and he demonstrated why on the game’s winning goal. Alfredsson decided on his penalty shot move before stepping on the ice and found himself with a wide open net after fooling the Leafs goalie.
“Maybe I’ll be able to get him once,” Alfredsson said with a smile. “I’m sure he’ll be better prepared next time.”
Gustavsson never saw the deke coming.
“It was good penalty shot from him,” he said. “I thought he was going to shoot, but he fooled me there.”
The goal made it 2-0 for Ottawa before the midway point of the game and Sens goalie Pascal Leclaire made sure it was all the offence his team would need.
Fourth-liner Shean Donovan also had a goal while Leclaire made 26 saves for Ottawa (1-1-0), which will play its home opener against John Tavares and the New York Islanders on Thursday. The team was happy to head home with a victory.
“This division’s very, very tough,” said coach Cory Clouston.
Matt Stajan replied for the Maple Leafs (0-2-1).
Even though it’s only three games into the regular season, Toronto appears to be on the verge of panic mode. Coach Ron Wilson was extremely critical of his forwards after the game and promised to put everyone through a tough practice on Wednesday morning – telling reporters to “come early.”
“We’ll find most of our forwards tomorrow,” said Wilson. “That was almost an embarrassing effort from seven or eight guys who we’re really counting on heavily.”
Games between these teams have traditionally been referred to as the Battle of Ontario, but this one featured very little battle. There was a surprising lack of energy given that both teams were after their first victory in the young season.
One of the few signs life in the first period saw Maple Leafs rookie Viktor Stalberg leave with an injury. Wilson said the winger had his “bell rung” after cruising into the Senators zone and getting flattened by rugged defenceman Anton Volchenkov.
After two losses with No. 1 goalie Vesa Toskala in net, Wilson gave Gustavsson his first career NHL start. The 24-year-old was steady in his debut but didn’t get much help from the offence.
The only goals to get past Gustavsson were scored 37 seconds apart in the second period.
The Swedish goalie was on his back during a long scramble that ended with Donovan batting the puck out of the air and in at 6:45. Donovan was a healthy scratch in the season opener and displayed a big toothless grin on the bench after a video reviewed confirmed he didn’t catch the puck with a high-stick.
“Things happen pretty fast in the game so I can’t say that I knew 100 per cent that it was legit,” said Donovan, who hadn’t scored since Feb. 11. “But I was hoping.”
Leafs defencemen Luke Schenn and Francois Beauchemin were on the ice for that goal and remained out there when Milan Michalek took a breakaway pass shortly after. Schenn ended up catching the Sens winger with a high-stick while hauling him down, giving Ottawa a penalty shot and a two-minute power play at the same time.
Alfredsson took the attempt in place of the injured Michalek and beat Gustavsson at 7:22.
At the other end, Leclaire couldn’t help but smile.
“I think I’ve seen that one before and it was the same result – he usually scores on that move,” said Leclaire, who earned his first victory in an Ottawa uniform. “He’s such a skilled player and he’s our leader here. Big players make big plays at big times. That was one of them.”
Wilson noted that Alfredsson wouldn’t have had the opportunity if Schenn had done a better job of sticking with his man.
“Luke’s got to plain play better,” said the Leafs coach.
Ottawa took the 2-0 lead into the third period, but soon saw the advantage narrowed. Tomas Kaberle found Stajan with a great cross-ice pass on the power play and the centre one-timed it behind Leclaire at 5:36.
Suddenly, the Leafs found themselves with some momentum. Mike Komisarek appeared to have the tying goal, but his blast from point caromed off both posts and out.
Stajan found himself with a final chance in the dying seconds but Leclaire was able to deny him with a nice pad save to preserve the victory.
“Sometimes you’re looking for the first one for a long time,” said Leclaire. “It’s a great feeling.”
Notes: Stajan’s goal was his third of the season. It took him nine games to reach that mark a year ago … Jamal Mayers, Wayne Primeau and Jeff Finger were scratched for Toronto … Filip Kuba and Ryan Shannon sat out for the Sens … The Maple Leafs took four of six games from Ottawa last season … Former Leaf Gary Roberts, who retired earlier this year, was honoured before the game … Announced attendance was 18,830.