Home, sweet home for Leafs
From Frederik Andersen getting “dialled in” during O Canada, to the crowd ‘ba-ba-ba’-ing through the chorus of Sweet Caroline, capped by the post-game stick salute, the Air Canada Centre is no longer Sleep Country Canada for the Leafs.
After years attempting to get some mojo at home, the Leafs are on the verge of sweeping a fivegame stand for the first time in franchise history. Winning on the ice and eight of nine overall heading into Wednesday against Columbus has enhanced the bells and whistles for a night on Bay St.
Andersen’s work in net and excitement generated by Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner, all with seven points during the four-game home streak, has team confidence at its highest mid-season level in years. Keeping it going, perhaps getting home-ice advantage in April is the next step.
“We’ve played some really good teams in that stretch (Anaheim, Nashville and Tampa Bay),” said centre Tyler Bozak, who has seen much of the dark side of playing in Toronto. “We wanted to see how we matched up and thought we did a petty good job, but we have to keep getting better.
“(Coach Mike Babcock) likes his match-ups and at home, it’s a lot easier to handle those things. We have a lot of depth and guys who can move around the lineup and play in different spots. The teams that win every year have a ton of depth.”
Bozak and James van Riemsdyk teamed up for Monday’s winning goal over the Bolts on top of a twogoal night from Nylander and three assists from Matthews. Van Riemsdyk insisted he wasn’t looking too closely at the home/road dynamic, though the Leafs failed to win just once in regulation when they had five in a row at the ACC last month.
“The more I’ve played, the less I’ve realized stuff like that. Playing at home, guys are more comfortable in their routines and with their controllables. You try and have a consistent approach. You guys can fill us in on the (records) later.
“You can see people are having a good time in the stands, the team’s doing well and all that sort of stuff feeds off each other. Our job is to do it no matter where we play.”
As much as the young guns have been the vanguard, it’s Andersen’s name that is getting chanted more and more. Fans of recent generations loved Leaf goalies Mike Palmateer, Ken Wregget, Felix Potvin, Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour, but Andersen is getting his due. With 15 home wins and a projected 12 more starts that aren’t part of back-to-backs, that would give him a shot at the franchise record of 22, held jointly by Joseph, Belfour, Harry Lumley and the team’s most successful stopper, Turk Broda.
“It’s been fun to play at home and the support has been growing,” Andersen said. “We still have to work, but that (crowd response) is what we can dream of. It’s great to repay them with some wins.”
William Nylander, right, and the Leafs celebrate the forward’s second goal of the game in the Leafs’ win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday.