KANATA – Mere minutes before puck drop and mere hours after blessing young impact forward Brady Tkachuk with the second-richest contract in Ottawa Senators history, Pierre Dorion could not stop smiling.
On Tuesday night, cost-conscious owner Eugene Melnyk loosened the purse strings and gave his general manager the greenlight to lock Tkachuk up long-term.
“I’ve felt as powerful as I’ve ever felt,” Dorion beamed. And later: “We got the Leafs tonight.”
That power surge might have transferred directly from Dorion to his players when the giddy executive high-fived Tim Stützle before his pre-game nap.
The Sens came flying out of the gates in their home opener Thursday, catching their Ontario rivals flatfooted and overworking Toronto goaltender Petr Mrazek in his Leafs debut.
Leaning into a noisy (yet not-quite-sellout) crowd at Canadian Tire Centre, the home side directed three pucks past the Czech netminder before the buzzer sounded mercifully on the first period.
Chris Tierney guided one in with his foot. Former Leaf Tyler Ennis (who arrived in town on a PTO) tipped a point shot with his torso, and Alex Formenton’s dagger arrived with just 1.4 seconds left on the clock.
Sluggish during their season-opening back-to-back, Toronto has now dug itself a hole before the nine-minute mark in both of its games.
“We weren’t ready from the drop of the puck, and that was disappointing. It caught us off-guard, frankly, because it wasn’t an issue for us whatsoever through pre-season and obviously not the way we want to come out,” coach Sheldon Keefe said of Wednesday’s comeback win over Montreal.
“Now you come on the road here, playing against a fresh team that you know is going to be ready. They’re going to be excited to play here today. We have to be sharp.”
And then the coach delivered some foreshadowing: “We didn’t give up very much from the 10-minute mark of the first period on. But it could’ve been over before it started.”
This one was.
A poor own-zone giveaway from Pierre Engvall, sluggish feet on blended lines, and a stand-on-his-head performance by Ottawa goaltender Anton Forsberg resulted in a 3-2 loss for the Maple Leafs and a joyous Tkachuk Day in Kanata.
Credit Sens coach D.J. Smith for getting the NHL’s cheapest Opening Night roster ready from jump.
“Tremendous coach,” Keefe said. “He did a really great job with that group last season. If that season ends up going 82 games, they’re pushing for a playoff spot.”
Injury piled on the Maple Leafs’ insult when Mrazek, who settled down nicely in the second, did not take the ice for the final frame.
He is out with a groin injury.
Jack Campbell performed admirably in cold relief, and the Leafs pushed back with goals from former Senator Jason Spezza and a dialled-in William Nylander.
Alas, Ottawa’s powerful push over the first 19:59 was all it took to secure the win.
For the Leafs, this one was over… and then they started.
Round Two of the Battle of Ontario goes Saturday night in Toronto.
Tkachuk should be able to shimmy his way into the lineup for that one.