Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 3-2 pre-season overtime victory over the Montreal Canadiens Sunday at Air Canada Centre:
Strong start for Buds, but nothing to show for it heading into the first intermission. With a lineup that is likely to resemble the one that begins the regular season, the Leafs took to the ice for the first time at the ACC this fall and pressured the Canadiens consistently out of the gate, outshooting the Habs 7-4 in the first 20 minutes of play. However, Montreal took the first lead of the night when rookie centre Daniel Audette - son of former NHLer Donald Audette - scored at the 13:20 mark of the opening frame.
The Buds obviously weren't happy with the scoresheet at that point, but their collective effort and ability to keep the play in Montreal's zone for long stretches of time was impressive.
Video: MTL@TOR: Zaitsev snipes one past Condon
Zaitsev's Leafs debut includes his first goal. Although much of the media focused on rookie centre Auston Matthews' first game as a Leaf, there was another first-year NHLer making his debut for Toronto Sunday: blueliner Nikita Zaitsev, who signed with the team as a free agent this summer. The 24-year-old Zaitsev showed no signs of nervousness; rather, he was poised with the puck and tied the game at 1-1 when he scored his first goal for the Blue & White at 9:09 of the second period.
The Russian D-man played well for his homeland at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, and it is clear his seven seasons in the Kontinental League have prepared him to make a smooth transition to the North American game.
About that Matthews kid. Matthews' status as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NHL entry draft puts him in the spotlight, but as he showed at the World Cup - and again on Sunday - the 19-year-old isn't at all out of his element when playing at the sport's highest levels. Matthews didn't get his name on the scoresheet against the Canadiens, but he was constantly creating opportunities in the Habs' zone and nearly connected for offence on a number of occasions.
As Toronto's management has stressed, Matthews is not a saviour for the franchise, but he is already a terrific young player who'll be giving Leafs Nation much to be proud of in the games and years to come.
Rielly's confidence on offence continues to build. Blueliner Morgan Rielly - another Leafs player who put forth a strong showing at the World Cup - is entering his fourth NHL season, and his willingness to jump into the play and contribute to the offence is growing with each shift and every game. That much was true again Sunday, when he carried the puck with confidence all night and was rewarded for it at the 7:35 mark of the third period when he took a stellar pass from forward William Nylander down the middle of the ice and beat Habs goalie Mike Condon for his first pre-season goal and Toronto's first lead of the game.
Just as importantly, Rielly was on the ice late in the game when the Leafs were down on a 5-on-3 penalty kill - 6-on-3 once the Habs pulled Condon for the extra attacker - and helped Toronto kill off both penalties. It's sometimes hard to believe Rielly is still only 22 years old, but his game is still growing and he's a key component of Toronto's blueprint for winning.
Slew of power play opportunities and the final result in overtime were good indications of Toronto's consistent puck pressure. The Leafs were awarded six power plays Sunday - including three for delay of game on Montreal's behalf - and though they didn't score on any of them, they did carry much of the play for most of the evening and consistently kept the Habs on their heels.
While Montreal managed to even the score with 17 seconds remaining in regulation time - that two-man advantage left a tired group of Buds defenders on the ice, and the Habs finally capitalized to send the game to overtime - Toronto used its speed and talent again in OT to turn the tables on the Canadiens, and winger James van Riemsdyk made a fantastic pass to veteran defenceman Matt Hunwick for the game-winning goal (his third of the pre-season) with 40 seconds remaining before a shootout would've decided the winner.
Tenacity was a hallmark of the Leafs in their first year under head coach Mike Babcock last season, and it was there again in its first home game this year.