View of the ice at Air Canada Centre prior to the game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens on October 2nd, 2016

Maple Leafs win Matthews’ debut over rival Habs

Hunwick scores overtime winner as Toronto beats Montreal 3-2 in OT

Auston Matthews made his NHL preseason debut on Sunday night as a new era began for the Maple Leafs.

It’s an era apparently dominated by the back end.

Toronto defencemen accounted for all three goals with Matt Hunwick’s third of the preseason counting for the overtime winner as the Maple Leafs downed the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 at the Air Canada Centre.

For coach Mike Babcock, he wasn’t fazed by the blue line’s offensive output, instead looking at his forwards to pick up the slack.

“If the forwards won’t shoot it, it’s going to be hard for them to score,” Babcock said, at a press conference after the game. “They tried passing it into the net tonight.

“We liked having the puck, and thought they were giving points for stick handling instead of shooting and scoring goals.”

However, the coach thinks that as the younger players face NHL lineups, they will learn what they have to do.

“Those guys want to score, they want to get points, they’ll figure out all this stick handling on the outside isn’t going to get that done in the NHL.”

Nikita Zaitsev and Morgan Rielly had the other goals for the Maple Leafs (2-1-1), who were playing their only pre-season game in Toronto. Their exhibition schedule takes them from Halifax to Saskatoon.

Daniel Audette and Daniel Carr scored for Montreal (2-2-1), taking part in their second game in as many nights, after beating the Senators 3-2 in overtime on Saturday night in Ottawa.

Garrett Sparks entered the game midway through the second period and stopped 17 of 18 shots he faced for the victory.

Babcock appreciated the efforts, but wants the young net minder to build on what he did in his rookie season.

“Sparks has ability for sure, he’s just gotta learn to be a good pro,” he said. “On second saves he can’t be on his butt. He’s got to square up and face them.”

Mike Condon was peppered and stopped 29 of 31 shots for Montreal, but it wasn’t enough for the victory. Condon is fighting Charlie Lindgren and Al Montoya to be the backup for Carey Price this season.

Matthews centred a line with William Nylander and Zach Hyman on the wings and they were effective for Toronto, but they left chances wanting.

In particular was a first period set piece where Matthews found Nylander at the side of the net and the Swede flipped it to Hyman, but the Toronto native was unable to handle the puck and it was knocked away. Babcock wasn’t pleased with the weakness shown inside.

“We were perimeter light in my opinion and didn’t want to attack the net,” he said. “We were on the outside way too much.”

It looked the Canadiens were going to advantage of Toronto’s inability to hit the net. Nathan Beaulieu skated into the zone with the puck and teed-up Audette. The son of ex-NHLer Donald made no mistake with the one-timer beating starter Jhonas Enroth for Audette’s first of the pre-season.

Another debutante got the Maple Leafs on the board in the second period. Fresh off the bench, Zaitsev took a pass and skated into the slot with no problem. He rifled a wrist shot low stick side on Condon, who was screened by Mikhail Sergachev.

Babcock noticed the strong play of the young Russian defenceman.

“Zaitsev’s the best of that young group by far,” he said.

Matthews did his best to get on the score sheet in his first Maple Leafs appearance. The best chance came on a power play when Matthews worked out from the corner and around Zach Redmond but his shot rang off the post as the 18,912 in attendance audibly groaned at the sound of rubber on iron.

In the third period, Toronto pressed the issue early and eventually broke through for its first lead. With Matthews acting as a decoy, William Nylander threaded the needle to the trailing Reilly. The 2012 first round pick was able to fight off Michael McCarron as he beat Condon stick side for his first of the pre-season.

Two penalties to Matt Hunwick and Roman Polak gave the Canadiens a two-man advantage late in the third period. Montreal made it a three-man advantage by pulling Condon, but the Leafs were able to hold them at bay, with young Frederik Gauthier doing stellar work as the forward on the penalty kill.

They couldn’t keep Montreal away until the end though. With 18 seconds left in the period, David Desharnais found Carr streaking into the slot and he beat Sparks high to take the air out of the building heading into the extra frame. The goal was Carr’s first of the pre-season.

The teams traded chances in a fast and furious overtime.

Tyler Bozak had a great chance after stealing the puck in Montreal’s zone but he couldn’t slide the puck past Condon. Audette and James van Riemsdyk traded breakaways after that but neither hit the net.

Late in the extra frame, van Riemsdyk worked a two on one with Bozak, but he held onto the puck. Skating across the crease, he waited for the trailing Hunwick to skate into the slot, and slid the pass to the assistant captain who buried the puck into the open net as Beaulieu sprawled on the ice front of the net.

Notes: Matthews, van Reimsdyk, Rielly, Zaitsev, Polak, Milan Michalek and Leo Komarov all played in their first pre-season game for Toronto. All seven took part in the World Cup of Hockey … Chants of “Let’s Go Blue Jays” could be heard during the game. The baseball team clinched a one game playoff at the Rogers Centre with a 2-1 win in Boston earlier in the day … Toronto heads on the road for games against Ottawa in Saskatoon on Tuesday and Montreal on Thursday before heading to Hamilton for a game on Friday night vs. Detroit … Montreal travels to Quebec City to face the Boston Bruins on Tuesday before finishing their pre-season against the Maple Leafs on Thursday.