Maple Leafs, Senators split doubleheader to open NHL pre-season

TORONTO — Sheldon Keefe confessed it felt like he should be getting ready to drive home.

The Maple Leafs head coach was speaking with reporters following Saturday afternoon's 4-1 victory over the Senators to open the NHL's exhibition schedule.

The only problem? Toronto and Ottawa had another 60 minutes of hockey to go as part of a rare split-squad doubleheader.

"It's strange … feels like 10 (p.m.) right now," Keefe, who arrived at Scotiabank Arena before dawn, said around 4 p.m. following Game 1. "Haven't seen daylight yet today. But it serves a purpose for me and for us and for our team.

"So for that reason, I think it's a good thing."

Mark Kastelic scored the winner as the Senators stormed back from a 2-0 deficit in the third period to down the Leafs 4-2 and take the second contest of the twin bill.

Angus Crookshank, Josh Norris and Tyler Motte, into an empty net, had the other goals for the Senators.

Anton Forsberg, Ottawa's projected backup netminder when the regular schedule gets going next month, made 13 saves in just over 30 minutes of play.

Calle Jarnkrok had both goals for Toronto. Ilya Samsonov, in his first appearance since signing with the Leafs in free agency, stopped all 16 shots he faced in two periods of action. Michael Bunting had two assists.

"It was weird," Bunting said of the doubleheader. "We were leaving morning skate and the other guys were coming in to play."

In the earlier game, Justin Holl had a goal and an assist as Toronto scored on three straight shots in the second on the way to that 4-1 win.

"It's a long day, but I'm coaching hockey,” Keefe said at the end of the night. "It's a pretty good day. It's a nice way to get back into it."

Toronto star power dressed for the nightcap included Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie. Ottawa countered with Norris, Brady Tkachuk, Drake Batherson and Thomas Chabot.

Jarnkrok, who inked a four-year contract in free agency, opened the scoring early in the second period of Game 2 on a bullet shot off a pass from Matthews. He doubled the lead midway through the second on another snipe after Antoine Bibeau replaced Forsberg.

Crookshank cut the lead in half five minutes into third on Keith Petruzzelli, who played the final period for Toronto.

Norris tied the game 2-2 on a power play with under seven left in regulation before Kastelic buried the winner just 22 seconds later. Motte sealed it late after Jarnkrok hit Mads Sogaard's post in the Ottawa goal with under a minute remaining.

The exhibition schedule's rare curtain-raising scenario marked the first time the Leafs have played a split-squad doubleheader in the same venue on the same day, while it was the second such instance for the Senators after they met the New York Islanders in St. John's, N.L., in 2014.

Among the benefits for teams is getting more players in live game action right off the bat.

It was also something very different.

"You get everyone in in one day,” Senators head coach D.J. Smith said. "For the (coaching) staff and the trainers, yeah it's tough. Oh well."

Toronto's post-game media availability after the opener was the first time reporters have been allowed inside an NHL locker room since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

"Nice to have you guys back," Leafs winger Wayne Simmonds said with a grin.

"It's good to have you back," Keefe added. "Sort of."

Denis Malgin, who didn't have a point in eight appearances during his first go-round with Toronto in 2019-20, and Alex Steeves had the other goals for the Leafs in Game 1, while Mark Giordano added three assists. Erik Kallgren stopped seven shots in his 40 minutes of work.

Tim Stutzle replied for the Senators. Cam Talbot made 10 saves in just over 1 1/2 periods of action.

Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander were in the lineup for Game 1. Acquired by the Leafs from the Senators in July, Matt Murray didn't dress for either contest.

Stutzle led Ottawa in the afternoon tilt, while Talbot, Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux suited up for the first time since joining the club as part of a busy off-season in the nation's capital.

Jake Sanderson, the fifth overall pick at the 2020 draft, made his professional debut for the Senators.

Ottawa opened the scoring midway through the first when Stutzle took a stretch pass to score on the visitors' only shot of the period.

The No. 3 pick in 2020 skated between DeBrincat and Giroux in their pre-season debuts for Ottawa.

"It's all about chemistry," Stutzle said. "I'm really happy and glad I can play with them."

Toronto broke through with three goals just 2:14 apart in the second.

Holl scored on a shot with Zach Aston-Reese — a veteran forward looking to make the roster on a professional tryout — screening Talbot. Malgin then took a slick feed from Nylander on an odd-man rush before Giordano's point shot deflected in off Steeves for a 3-1 advantage.

Steeves added an empty-net goal late.

So, any advice for a fellow coach prepping for an NHL doubleheader?

"Make sure you get to bed early," Smith said with a laugh. "There's little mental fatigue.

“But we'll be all right."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2022.

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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press