Michael Bunting has brought some feistiness in his initial games with the Maple Leafs.
On Saturday night, the Scarborough native showed off his hands for the first time at Scotiabank Arena.
The scrappy winger scored a crucial goal in the third period, giving the Leafs a two-goal cushion on the way to a 3-1 victory against the Ottawa Senators.
Before he scored at 7:57, Bunting waited out Senators defenceman Victor Mete, moved to his forehand and beat goaltender Anton Forsberg with a low shot to the glove side.
The victory, the Leafs’ second in three games to start 2021-22, exacted some revenge in the Battle of Ontario following a Senators win in Ottawa on Thursday.
Signed to a two-year contract in July, Bunting has a long way to go before he makes Leafs Nation forget about Zach Hyman. The early returns, though, are promising.
Jack Campbell was his usual steady self in the Leafs net, making 20 saves, but the club had quite a different look at the backup position.
Thanks to the groin injury suffered by Petr Mrazek, defenceman Justin Holl’s illness and salary-cap restraints, the Leafs were forced to go outside the box, signing University of Toronto goalie Alexander Bishop to a one-day amateur tryout contract.
The Leafs didn’t have the cash on hand to recall Michael Hutchinson; now that they have played one game short in goal, the Leafs will get cap relief to summon Hutchinson on an emergency basis.
Holl had cold symptoms and the results of his COVID-19 test had not yet come back; had Holl been healthy, the Leafs could have sent defenceman Timothy Liljegren, who does not need waivers, to the Toronto Marlies and recalled Hutchinson. Instead, Liljegren made his season debut in Holl’s absence, was partnered with Jake Muzzin and had an assist on Bunting’s goal.
Most importantly, Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said the team doesn’t expect Mrazek to be out for the long term.
Bishop participated in the morning skate, but that was the extent of his action in a Leafs uniform. You have to think the Toronto organization exhaled when Campbell got through the game without a scratch.
“It just comes down to the fact that the flat cap has created some situations here that are a lot more difficult to manage,” Keefe said of the odd situation.
“Whether you’re a coach or a player, you don’t give much thought to the backup goaltender. It has nothing to do with what we’re trying to focus on.”
The Sens got some momentum in the second period when they killed off a two-man Leafs advantage that lasted one minute six seconds, and climbed back into the game when they scored a power-play goal at 17:42.
With the largely unnoticeable Nick Ritchie serving a cross-checking minor, Josh Norris slipped the puck under Campbell at 17:42.
A Keefe challenge for offside washed out what would have been the tying goal by Drake Batherson at 19:55. Batherson broke in alone on Campbell, the puck bouncing in off the forward’s leg after a Campbell poke check. But replays showed Batherson was a hair offside, proving Keefe right.
Campbell was not busy, but he was sharp when it was required. The best save of the period came when he denied Tim Stuetzle on a breakaway.
A couple of players who hadn’t made much of a dent in Toronto’s first two games of the season, forwards Wayne Simmonds and Alex Kerfoot, scored in the first period to put the Leafs up 2-0 heading into the intermission.
At 8:06, Kerfoot got his first of the season after William Nylander’s diligence in coming up with the puck behind the Sens net. Nylander gained control and centred to Kerfoot, whose shot eluded Forsberg.
After the morning skate, Kerfoot touched on the Leafs’ bad starts in the opener against Montreal and the following night in Ottawa.
“Imposing our will on teams for a full 60 minutes (is key),” Kerfoot said.
“(Improving starts) is a lot of talk until we do change anything about it, but this is a good opportunity for us to come in against a team that played pretty well against us last game and get off to a really good start.”
And that’s what happened, in part because of Kerfoot’s goal.