LEAFS CRUSH DEVILS
Bottom-sixers come up big as Maple Leafs crush Devils at Scotiabank Arena:
At least one Maple Leaf won’t want to remove his Hall of Fame Game crest from his sweater after Friday night.
Snake-bitten winger Andreas Johnsson scored his first of the year, perhaps channeling some energy from the Hall honour guard and six new inductees at Scotiabank Arena in a 6-1 Toronto shellacking of the New Jersey Devils.
Johnsson joined his more consistent third-line pals, Connor Brown and Par Lindholm, in a four-point night, providing the elusive secondary scoring coach Mike Babcock has sought since Auston Matthews was hurt and Toronto began sputtering with home offence. The Leafs have won two in a row on Bay St., for the first time this season, though now it’s back on the road for a week.
“That was probably the most chances I’ve had in a game,” said a relieved Johnsson, who had missed a breakaway right before his middle-period goal made it 4-1. It originated with a Jake Gardiner shot that hit a Devil and bounced off goalie Keith Kinkaid right to Johnsson for some overdue puck luck.
For head coach Mike Babcock, Johnsson’s was probably the most important of the six goals, that ranged from John Tavares’ ninth, Brown’s second in as many games, a Morgan Rielly blueline floater and a steal from
fourth-liner Tyler Ennis.
“Good for (Johnsson),” Babcock said of the AHL playoff MVP. “He skated, drove the middle hard and was rewarded. He seems to be getting more rhythm in his game. That line was good again (Lindholm winning nine of 13 faceoffs).”
Frederik Andersen’s 38 saves compensated for any defensive lapses as he tied
Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy for nine wins atop the NHL goalies board.
“The first period was great, we limited their chances to barely any,” said Andersen, his save percentage improving to .933 and his place in franchise wins now 12th overall with his 80th victory.
Babcock was elated that his goalie and the team as a
whole were not taxed before flying to Boston for what should be an intense game against last year’s playoff foes.
Patrick Marleau collected his 600th NHL assist on Nazem Kadri’s goal when the latter bounced a pass that was one-timed, surprising Kinkaid.
“Maybe it helped that it was wobbly (when Kadri released),” Marleau said.
Rielly’s was the evening’s third straight unusual goal, a quick flick while the Leafs were on a line change with Kinkaid barely moving. Rielly joined Thomas Chabot and Brett Burns in the 20-point club at the top of league’s defencemen. Almost 50 goals have gotten past Jersey’s goalies already this season.
Ennis, who said earlier in the day that new Hall member Martin St. Louis was his favourite player as a fellow Munchkin, scored the sixth goal.
Toronto’s only letdown was due to a sloppy breakout by Kadri in the second period, coming out from behind the Leafs goal and getting stripped by Blake Coleman, with Travis Zajac getting the goal.
One of Matthews’ observations about the NHL has been that it does not outwardly seem to promote the individual personalities of its players as in other major sports.
“We do that,” insisted commissioner Gary Bettman at Friday afternoon’s Hockey Hall Of Fame ring ceremony. “A lot of the fact that players might not get enough attention or promotion is that it’s their nature. Auston is one of the younger players, he’s more adept at social media and I think he’s willing to be out there a little more.
“Historically, the culture of the game didn’t necessarily encourage it, as much we tried to and will continue to do.”
Andersen senses he’s being leaned upon a lot more by the Leafs this season — and not just for the .929 save percentage he brought into Friday’s game.
He’s still a soft-talker around the media, but don’t be fooled.
“I’m a pretty introverted guy,” Andersen said before Friday’s game. “The better I get to know guys, the more open I’ll be and be joking around a bit more.
”We’re taking steps personally with a different leadership role. Just giving the guys a chance to win is obviously most important.”
But if Andersen has been more vocal, Babcock hasn’t heard him.
“You lead by doing, not by what you say,” declared the coach. “You lead by conditioning, by your preparation in the summer by continuing to try and get better, how you go about your craft and how you respond when things go wrong.
“In the end, we’re all measured by team success and the second season. But it’s harder to get there than in years back. You have to be ready every day and he’s done a good job of that.”
FUN AND GAMES
Rielly, who was the alternate captain representing the Leafs at Friday night’s pre-game centre ice faceoff with the six new Hall of Famers, went to the Yonge St. shrine as a kid and a few times since.
“(At first), you tend to play the interactive games. I played some goal in the simulator. I was not good. As you get older, you have a different appreciation for it. You read the plaques.”
Rielly showed he was a little new at this ceremonial faceoff business, keeping the puck afterwards, before remembering to hand the souvenir to Jayna Hefford.
BYE BYE BAY ST.
After Friday’s game, the Leafs headed out on the road for a full week, with an emotional return to Boston on Saturday before three games in California. But the players knew better than to look past a non-sexy opponent such as New
Jersey, which might have been a concern for Babcock a few years ago.
“In this league, as soon as you look past someone, they just thump you and you don’t touch the puck,” Babcock said. “I think we’ve got that lesson a couple of times this year already. I feel we’ve pressed more at home and haven’t been as loose. We had a good first period and a good third (on Tuesday against Vegas), I think we’d like to build off that momentum and get going at home.”
Josh Leivo reached 16 games last night, having yet to miss a start, matching his total in 2017-18. He also had one goal through 16 last season ... Another touching Remembrance Day ceremony by the Leafs, who invited Second World War veterans on to the ice and projected poppies on the ice during a moment of silence
... Joe Bowen, honoured during game for winning the Hall’s Foster Hewitt Award for broadcasting, once worked in the historic gondola at Maple Leaf Gardens for a Sudbury station, calling OHL games. “The catwalk out there was as scary as they say. Once you got in the gondola, it was so small, with two cane-back chairs, many phone wires to plug in and only about three feet for two people to sit. But, man, what a view!” ... Winner of the Elmer Ferguson Award and going into the writers’ wing is Larry Brooks of the New York Post.
Leafs’ Zach Hyman gets knocked off-balance by Brett Seney of the Devils during a scramble in front of the New Jersey net last night.
Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen steers clear of the traffic as teammate Patrick Marleau jostles with Devils forward Marcus Johansson during the second period last night at Scotiabank Arena.