Matthews scores twice, Tavares named Leafs captain as Toronto downs Ottawa

Maple Leafs 5 Senators 3

The Maple Leafs centre scored twice as Toronto defeated the Ottawa Senators 5-3 in the curtain-raiser on the 2019-20 NHL season Wednesday.

The Leafs unveiled John Tavares as the 25th captain in franchise history during the pre-game ceremony, with Matthews, winger Mitch Marner and defenceman Morgan Rielly named as alternates.

Ilya Mikheyev, with a goal and an assist in his NHL debut, Frederik Gauthier and Trevor Moore also scored for Toronto, which got 23 stops from Frederik Andersen. Tyson Barrie, acquired from the Colorado Avalanche in the off-season trade for Nazem Kadri, added two assists.

Matthews now has nine goals and two assists in the four season-opening games of his young career — including the four he bagged against the Senators in his NHL debut back in 2016.

Brady Tkachuk, Scott Sabourin and Bobby Ryan replied for Ottawa. Craig Anderson made 37 saves.

A native of nearby Oakville, Ont., Tavares fills a captaincy that had been vacant since Dion Phaneuf was traded to the Senators in February 2016. The 29-year-old centre signed with the Leafs in unrestricted free agency on July 1, 2018, and has been everything Toronto could ask for — and possibly more — in his 15 months with the team.

Tavares put up a career-high 47 goals and 88 points in his first season with the Leafs, and was a calming influence both on and off the ice as a young team with boatloads of skills looks to navigate the tricky NHL waters.

Down 1-0 after the first period Wednesday, Gauthier scored Toronto’s first goal of the season 2:20 into the second when he beat out former Leafs defenceman Nikita Zaitsev to a loose puck in the Ottawa crease.

Moore made it 2-1 for the home side at 4:42 when he poked a shot home in front of Anderson off a feed from Mikheyev.

But Sabourin — like Mikheyev also playing his first NHL game after securing a roster spot in the nation’s capital following a professional tryout — finished off a pretty passing play just 1:09 later to tie it up.

Ottawa looked to have retaken the lead at 7:28, but Ron Hainsey — another ex-Leafs blue-liner — had his goal called back after an offside challenge.

Matthews promptly went to work just 34 seconds later, taking a slick feed from William Nylander on a 2-on-1 and beating Anderson.

Tkachuk was then whistled for goalie interference with just over five minutes left in the period, and Matthews made Ottawa pay by burying a one-timer over Anderson’s shoulder off a great no-look Marner feed.

The crowd at Scotiabank Arena followed that laser by chanting Matthews’ name the following shift. The 22-year-old has had a rough stretch after news broke last week that he’s facing a charge of disorderly conduct and disruptive behaviour stemming from an alleged incident — which he failed to disclose to the team — in his hometown of Scottsdale, Ariz., back in May.

Mikheyev put the game out of reach at 9:43 of the third when he got enough of a pass from Barrie to beat Anderson upstairs for his first in the NHL.

Ryan got a consolation goal for Ottawa with 2:15 left in regulation, beating Andersen through the pads from the slot.

Matthews came close to getting his second-career hat trick late into an empty net, but couldn’t quite find the range in close before getting checked to the ice.

Former Leafs assistant D.J. Smith made his debut as an NHL bench boss for Ottawa, which also had four players that suited up for Toronto in last season’s opener — Hainsey and Zaitsev, as well as forwards Connor Brown and Tyler Ennis.

Ottawa opened the scoring just 25 seconds into the first on the first shot of the season when Tkachuk got inside position on Cody Ceci — a former Senators defenceman — and redirected a pass from Brown on a delayed penalty after the Leafs couldn’t get the puck out of their zone.

After the visitors killed off a Toronto power play, Andersen had to be sharp in the Leafs’ goal after Jake Muzzin turned the puck over in front to Ottawa defenceman Dylan DeMelo.

Marner then hit the post on another Leafs’ man advantage before Matthews also came close.

It would be a sign of things to come.

Notes: Jason Spezza, who signed with Toronto for the league minimum in free agency to play for his hometown this season, was made a healthy scratch by Leafs head coach Mike Babcock. … Toronto visits the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday before hosting the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday. Ottawa plays its home opener Saturday against the New York Rangers.

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