Preview: Senators at Maple Leafs
For all their offensive flash, the Toronto Maple Leafs have been bounced from the playoffs in the first round in each of the past two seasons, victimized by Atlantic Division rival Boston both times. The top-heavy Atlantic could be the biggest obstacle for the high-powered Maple Leafs, who kick off the season at home Wednesday night against the rebuilding Ottawa Senators.
Toronto has racked up at least 100 points in the past two seasons before back-to-back seven-game ousters in the playoffs after finishing third in the division behind Tampa Bay and the Bruins. "We need to take a step forward," said Maple Leafs star forward Auston Matthews, one of seven players to score 20 goals. "The Achilles heel has always been that first round for us, so just trying to get over that hump. It's tough to measure a successful season without reaching that ultimate goal and accomplishing it." Taking a step forward would not be much of a leap for Ottawa, which finished with a league-low 64 points during a season in which it traded away its top four offensive players at one point or another and has a rookie coach in D.J. Smith, an assistant to Toronto's Mike Babcock the past four seasons. "Certainly special to go back and play against Toronto," Smith said. " ... I'm just excited to get this chapter started."
TV: 7 p.m. ET, TVA, Sportsnet, Sportsnet 360
ABOUT THE SENATORS (2018-19: 29-47-8, 8TH IN ATLANTIC): Brady Tkachuk collected 22 goals and 23 assists after he was taken with the No. 4 overall pick in 2018 and former first-rounder Thomas Chabot wound up leading the team with 55 points. Otherwise, the outlook is bleak for a team that surrendered a league-worst 301 goals and will be relying on the goaltending tandem of 38-year-old Craig Anderson and journeyman Anders Nilsson, who made a career-high 34 starts between Vancouver and Ottawa last season. Colin White, who had 14 goals and 41 points last season, will center the top line while ex-Maple Leaf Nikita Zaitsev will be paired with Chabot.
ABOUT THE MAPLE LEAFS (2018-19: 46-28-8, 3RD IN ATLANTIC): John Tavares set career highs with 47 goals and 41 assists and will center 20-goal scorer Kasperi Kapanen and Mitch Marner, who notched a team-high 94 points and signed a six-year, $65 million extension. Matthews was second on the team with 37 goals despite missing 14 games and will be paired with 21-goal scorer Andreas Johnsson and William Nylander to give Toronto two imposing lines. Tyson Barrie, acquired from Colorado, gives the Maple Leafs another high-scoring defenseman to go with Morgan Rielly, but the biggest key will be Frederik Andersen, who has 107 wins in his three seasons with Toronto.
1. Matthews has 10 goals and 17 points in 12 games versus the Senators.
2. Ottawa won three of four meetings last season, scoring at least four goals in each.
3. Toronto D Cody Ceci, acquired in the deal for Zaitsev, will play alongside Rielly on the top pairing.
PREDICTION: Maple Leafs 5, Senators 2