Mike Babcock wants Leafs sharp for home opener

Despite watching his team win 7-2 in Winnipeg to kick off the season, Mike Babcock wants to see improvements in Saturday's home opener against the New York Rangers.

Bench boss sees room for improvement despite 7-2 win against Jets

Head coach Mike Babcock, front, made a point of how many penalties The Toronto Maples Leafs committed in their 7-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets. CBC will have a live stream of the Leafs home opener against the New York Rangers on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Despite watching his team win 7-2 in Winnipeg to kick off the season, Mike Babcock wants improvements in Saturday's home opener (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET) against the New York Rangers.

The Maple Leafs coach reeled off Toronto's eight penalties Wednesday night against the Jets, a docket that ranged from too many men on the ice and an equipment violation (Leo Komarov's askew visor) to four high-sticking calls.

"Stay out of the box, that will really help us with goals-against and then just (a) commitment to doing things right," Babcock's wish list read after practice Friday. "As a group, we have been through enough. We know how to do it right, we've just got to do it right."

Goaltender Frederik Andersen helped Toronto survive a rocky opening that saw three straight Leaf penalties. Then Toronto's high-octane offence kicked into gear.

Veteran winger Patrick Marleau scored his first two goals as a Leaf with singles from Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri.

The young guns now get to showcase their skills before a home crowd filled with expectations after a breakthrough 2016-17 season that saw the Leafs (40-27-15) improve by 29 points over the previous year and take the first-place Washington Capitals to six games in a tight first-round playoff series.

For defenceman Morgan Rielly, the home opener is a chance to "get better defensively."

"There are things we can improve on for sure," he said. "We had a good meeting today, talked about New York and what they bring to the table so we're going to be ready."

The Rangers lost their home opener 4-2 on Thursday to Colorado despite outshooting the Avalanche 39-26.

New territory for Marleau

For the 38-year-old Marleau, Saturday's curtain-raiser at the Air Canada Centre follows 19 home openers in San Jose.

"I'm excited," said Marleau. "It's going to be a great atmosphere to go into. They usually all are, but now it's a little bit different for me with the new club and everything."

Babcock has also seen more than his share of home openers and says while he still appreciates them, he doesn't need a special occasion to remember how exciting hockey is.

"Hockey's exciting about hockey, so I don't need anything to get me more fired up about it," he said in typical Babcock-ese. "In saying that, I think the home opener is a great thing. It's a celebration of the start of the year.

"I'm glad we played a game already, so you get that under your belt. I thought we weren't very good early in that game and ideally we'll be better in this game. But I think it's important to celebrate your team with your fans in your city and that's what the opening night about. We have to find a well to play well."

CBC will live streamHockey Night in Canada on all digital platforms throughout the season beginning with the the Leafs hosting the Rangers at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday, followed by the Edmonton Oilers paying a visit to the Vancouver Canucks at 10 p.m. ET. 


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