With the club trailing 3-1 to the Montreal Canadiens midway through its season opener Wednesday night, Simmonds challenged blue-liner Ben Chiarot to a fight that his teammates believed changed the complexion of the game.
"That was the turning point of the game, for sure," William Nylander said after the 5-4 win, according to Sportsnet's Luke Fox. "He got the boys fired up. I think we were a little soft and slow in the beginning."
Toronto went on to score a pair of power-play goals following the tilt to tie the game 3-3 heading into the third period. Leafs rearguard Morgan Rielly, who scored the overtime winner, seconded Nylander's praise for the club's gritty winger.
"He's incredibly valuable to this team and we're very, very lucky to have him," Rielly said, according to TSN's Kristen Shilton. "He brings a whole lot of aspects of great things to our team in the way that he's able to play."
Simmonds, 32, signed a one-year, $1.5-million deal with the Leafs in October, and the veteran knows he can provide the team with an element of toughness that it's lacked in the past.
"I felt good," he said, according to Shilton. "It was my first real game action in 10 months, 28 days, and I could probably tell you to the second. I thought the boys needed a bit of a spark there. I know my role on this team. I asked Chiarot ... and it was green light go."
Simmonds added three hits while logging 10:25 of ice time in his Maple Leafs debut.