Senators kick into overdrive to storm past Maple Leafs in season opener

Brady Tkachuk had a goal and two assists, Matt Murray made 20 saves in his Ottawa debut, and the Senators defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-3 on Friday in their first game in more than 10 months.

Thomas Chabot, Austin Watson, Derek Stepan and Chris Tierney also scored for Ottawa. Josh Norris, with his first NHL points, Drake Batherson and Nikita Zaitsev added two assists each in the first of nine meetings between the Ontario rivals in the pandemic-shortened season.

John Tavares, with a goal and an assist, Zach Hyman and Alexander Kerfoot replied for the Leafs. Frederik Andersen stopped 19 shots for Toronto, which will look to rebound when the teams play the rematch Saturday back inside an empty Canadian Tire Centre because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Friday’s tilt marked the Senators’ first game in 310 days after they unknowingly took part in the final contest of the 2019-20 regular season March 11 in Los Angeles against the Kings. The league suspended its schedule the following day because of the widening coronavirus pandemic, and 30th-ranked Ottawa was among the seven clubs not included in the 24-team summer restart.

Playing their first home game since March 5 — a stretch of 316 days — the rebuilding Senators unveiled an off-season roster remake that includes No. 3 overall pick Tim Stutzle, who celebrated both his NHL debut and 19th birthday, Murray in goal, defencemen Erik Gudbranson, Josh Brown and Braydon Coburn, as well as Stepan, Watson, Evgenii Dadonov and Cedric Paquette up front.

The Leafs, Senators and Canada’s other five NHL franchises have been grouped together in the one-time-only North Division for the abbreviated 56-game 2020-21 campaign to avoid cross-border travel into the U.S.

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Ottawa defeats Toronto 5-3, Brady Tkachuk leads the way with 3 points. 0:56

Tied 1-1 after 20 minutes, the Leafs went ahead at 9:15 of the second when Kerfoot fired a shot through traffic past Murray, who was playing his first game with Ottawa after an off-season trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But the Senators got back even 1:13 later when Tkachuk outmuscled T.J. Brodie in front of Andersen to tip Zaitsev’s shot home. Watson then got in on the action at 12:32, taking a drop pass from Braydon Coburn after some nice work by Nick Paul, and ripping a shot in off the crossbar to give Ottawa its first lead.

Tierney then made it 4-2 at 15:03 when he swatted at a loose puck that deflected in off Brodie as the Leafs, who beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-4 in overtime on Wednesday in their season opener, were once again soft in coverage in front of Andersen.

Brodie’s miserable night continued when he gave the puck away behind the Toronto net to Stepan. Batherson’s stick broke on his shot attempt, but the puck dribbled to Stepan, who swept Ottawa’s 5-2 goal past Andersen at 6:15 of the third.

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Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches comment after Senators owner Eugene Melnyk backtracks on his request to have fans attend home games. 1:41

The Leafs got a power play not long after that, and Tavares snapped his second of the season in off the post just 52 seconds later for Toronto’s second power-play goal of the night and fourth already in 2021.

Andersen kept his team within two with a great stop on a pinching Gudbranson with about eight minutes to go and then also robbed Paquette from in tight a couple shifts later, but the Leafs were unable to get any closer.

Toronto opened the scoring at 9:59 of the first when Hyman batted a puck out of midair on a power play after Murray, who was playing in the 200th regular-season game of his career, made the initial save. The sequence went to video review for a possible high stick, but the call on the ice stood.

Wearing rebranded black jerseys featuring a return to the two-dimensional centurion logo used by the franchise from 1992 through 2007, the Senators equalized on a 5-on-3 man advantage when Batherson found Chabot for a one-timer with 43.5 seconds left in the period.

Notes: There was a pre-game moment of silence in honour of former “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek and former Senators general manager John Muckler. Trebek, who died Nov. 8 at age 80, was a graduate of the University of Ottawa and announced the pick when the Senators selected Stutzle third overall at October’s NHL draft. Muckler, who died Jan. 4 at age 86, served as Ottawa’s general manager from 2001 to 2007… Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said after the morning skate backup goalie Jack Campbell will start Saturday.

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