If the way Jack Campbell’s season ended in May was the goaltender at one of his lowest points, his start to the 2021-’22 campaign set the right tone.
Campbell made 31 saves as the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 in both teams’ season openers. He was particularly strong in the early going when Montreal crashed the net with several opportunities in the first eight minutes of the game.
But Campbell, making his first-ever start in a season opener, was calm and collected.
Playing in front of a near-capacity crowd for the first time in over 19 months, Campbell didn’t give up juicy rebounds. He was athletic in the net with minimal movement and he helped his teammates figure out their game while under an early attack from Montreal.
“He was on fire,” William Nylander said of Campbell. “Thank god he was a factor, it could have been 2 or 3-0 Montreal right from the start. We came out pretty slow.”
The lone goal Campbell surrendered was scored at 7:22 of the first period. Montreal had a 2-on-1 setup after Leafs defenseman Jake Muzzin turned the puck over in the neutral zone. Josh Anderson out-waited Leafs defenseman Justin Holl to slide the puck across to Jonathan Drouin, who scored for an early 1-0 lead.
Not much Campbell could do, but he didn’t get discouraged and his teammates eventually found their game.
“I thought for the first ten minutes we were not good, “Keefe said. “It took us a while to get comfortable in the game but from then on I thought the effort was really strong.”
After a standout year that included an NHL-record 11 wins to start the season, Campbell’s season ended on a rather dour note after his Maple Leafs fell to the Canadiens in the opening round of the 2021 playoffs.
Campbell, whose performance unseeded longtime starter Frederik Andersen from the net during the regular season, described the opening goal in Game 7 as the “worst of my career.”
He was emotional, and it was hard to blame him.
The Leafs signed goaltender Petr Mrazek to a three-year contract with an average annual value of $3.8 million this summer and the Czech goaltender will make his team debut against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.
Campbell is in the final year of a contract that pays him $1.65 million per season.
With cap constraints surrounding the team and questions about the ability to replicate the performance, Campbell’s future beyond this season will be tied to results.
Can he replicate the magic of the regular season this year? There are 31 other teams to play against this season instead of six. There are fans who paid money to be in attendance for the first time in the goaltender’s new role as a 1-A.
If Wednesday was any indication, it appears as though Campbell is up for the task.
“I thought the boys did a great job of responding after they scored, and we really executed the game plan,” Campbell said. “I think the crowd gave us the advantage tonight to give us the advantage and a huge two points.”
Engvall continues preseason momentum
Maple Leafs forward Pierre Engvall scored three pre-season goals this past month. but his role on the team was very much in doubt leading into the final week of training camp. With Auston Matthews (wrist) and Ilya Mikheyev (thumb) not available, Engvall not only found himself a spot in the opening-night lineup but moved up to the third-line wing position to play with newcomers David Kampf and Ondrej Kase.
Engvall scored the equalizer at 8:13 of the first period.
“He had a lot of tough assignments playing against their top people and playing in their own end a lot,” Keefe said of Engvall and his linemates. “I thought he was really good, so good we give him a pass on shooting at the empty-net there.”
Keefe was referring to Engvall shooting at an empty net from center ice. It resulted in an icing call against Toronto and a defensive-zone faceoff for the Canadiens with just 13 seconds remaining.
William Nylander scored the game-winning goal early in the third period when he came barreling down the wing and out-waited Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen. Nylander’s shot went right over Allen’s shoulder at 1:06.
“It was a great handoff there between he and Mitch (Marner),” Keefe said of the goal. “I thought it was good in a lot of other areas as well so a very positive sign for him and us.”
Successfully defending the 3-on-5
The Leafs were down two men for 1:44 in the third period when Jason Spezza and Marner took minor penalties.
Newcomer David Kampf and Justin Holl each had key blocks to help prevent Montreal from capitalizing.
“The block I think I should have had that seam in the first place so it shouldn’t have happened in the first place but always feels good to make a big play for the team,” Holl said.
Holl finished the night with four blocked shots.
Bunting gets it started
Michael Bunting seemed to fit alongside the makeshift second line with Alex Kerfoot and Nylander. He drew an interference penalty but hanging around Montreal’s net. Engvall’s goal was scored on the ensuing power play. He also had the primary assist on that goal.