Alex Bishop missed his date with EBUG destiny by nearly two years, but sitting at the end of the Maple Leafs’ bench Saturday was still a thrill.
It was Bishop’s night off as the rotating replacement goaltender at Scotiabank on Feb. 22, 2020 when 43-year-old Zamboni driver David Ayres was called on by Carolina and wound up preserving a win over the Leafs and being celebrated throughout the sports world and on late night U.S. TV.
That was the night James Reimer and Petr Mrazek were both hurt in the Canes net and it was a Mrazek injury, this time as a Leaf, that opened the door again Saturday for Bishop, the fourth year University of Toronto Blues’ commerce student from Richmond Hill.
“A great experience,” Bishop said afterwards, who wore No. 70. “(Stepping out) for warmup, with the flash of the cameras was pretty surreal. It’s pretty distracting, but cool to get in there and taking some shots.
“It’s not lost on me that this is a pretty rare opportunity. I’m pretty lucky to be cheering for my hometown team.”
He let his parents know in the morning when he worked the skate and they made it to the game, but he eventually turned off his phone as the calls and messages piled up.
“I watched that (Ayres) game; a day later and that would’ve been me. The first period I was pretty nervous, the second it started to ease, the third I soaked it all in.”
When Campbell came to the bench for timeouts, he gave Bishop a fist bump to make him feel at home.
GREY AREA WITH AUSTON
The Leafs hope Saturday’s morning skate was the last time Auston Matthews will be seen in practice wearing grey.
It was thought best to wait three games to be absolutely, confidently, 100% sure that his surgically repaired wrist was not only healed, but battle tested in drills as he’d not played an exhibition game. Monday’s game against the Rangers became the goal as Matthews was snapping the puck with authority on Saturday morning, coach Sheldon Keefe was not guaranteeing anything.
“I talked to him today, he was very positive, things are progressing, but there is no set date,” Keefe said. “
Anton Forsberg faced more than 70 shots in two straight games from the Leafs, allowing four goals. After the second period horn, when he’d stood up to Toronto’s 5-on-3 for 1:06 in the middle period and snatched away what would’ve been John Tavares’ 200th point as a Leaf, William Nylander had some complimentary words for his countryman. Nylander and Tavares had eight of the Leafs first 23 shots, during which time Ottawa teammates also blocked 17 for Forsberg … Timothy Liljegren seemed to fit in nicely in his season debut with Jake Muzzin as an ill Justin Holl was given the night off … Home grown defencemen Liljeren, Rasmus Sandin and Travis Dermott all had assists, Campbell very complimentary of Dermott’s stick check on a dangerous 2-on-1.
The first four nights of the NHL schedule saw 13 teams who missed the playoffs last season either win or get points. While keeping in mind that’s a very small sample size and a couple of those 13 played each other, it’s still a signal that the front of the pack can take few if any nights off as the rigours if a long schedule and travel return.
“You can win on any night in the NHL, especially early on,” said Ottawa coach D.J. Smith. “That’s when teams aren’t tired yet and depth isn’t a huge issue or you’re over-playing your guys. But as you get into games 20 to 40, teams with the most depth are going to start clicking. Anyone can win, but it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
With Saturday’s second game against Ottawa this week, the Leafs are in a stretch of six games in their first nine versus non-2021 playoff clubs. Toronto forward Alex Kerfoot wasn’t counting any of those as points in the bag.
“We all know that parity in the NHL is really unparalleled in any other sport,” he said. “Every team can beat another. We know whoever we play, they have a chance to win and it just shows you how focused you have to be.”
BRADY BACK SOON
The next Toronto-Ottawa match will be New Year’s Day, when Brady Tkachuk is presumably rolling for the Sens. But Smith didn’t want the newly re-signed star to make his season debut this weekend while still shaking rust away from missing training camp.
“If it were up to him, he’d be out there tonight,” Smith said Saturday morning. “But my job as coach is to protect him. Since I came here, it’s about being a good team for a long time. Brady’s a huge part of that and we have to make sure we take care that he’s 100% and we set him up for success.
“When Brady is physical, it just ups the intensity, the emotion, everything and ultimately, he’s the most physical guy. If you’re a defenceman and you have to shut him down or (Drake) Batherson with him and if you play them hard, the likelihood is Brady will be on you all night. That will provide some offence for us.”
Smith is looking at Thursday’s home game against San Jose to launch Tkachuk, but did not rule out Sunday’s match against Dallas if some Sens look spent after Saturday againt the Leafs or there’s an injury.
“There’s a chance, but I err on the side of caution. There are 82 games, you get so excited to get him into one, but if he’s not ready, there’s (a concern about) confidence, the whole thing. Other guys have put the time in and maybe it’s their last (game) to stay in or stay in a certain spot.”
And now for something completely different — an American opponent. After Saturday’s 72nd consecutive game against a Canadian team since January of 2021 (regular season, playoffs and exhibition, almost half involving Ottawa and Montreal), the Leafs host the New York Rangers Monday … One Senator knew Leafs’ Bishop very well. Thomas Chabot and he were teammates on the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL … The Marlies were off on a winning note Saturday with a 5-1 home win over Manitoba. First star Josh Ho-Sang scored two and Kirill Semyomov had three assists, with Nick Robertson adding two. Ho-Sang is wearing 96 for Toronto.