Maple Leafs shame Devils
A few superstitious Maple Leafs won’t want to remove those Hall of Fame Game crests from their sweaters after Friday night.
Certainly not the snake-bitten Andreas Johnsson, who scored his first of the year in front of a legion of Hall members 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 head 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, just in time to go on the road until Nov. 19.
The pesky Devils came as advertised, skating hard and determined to out-work Toronto, forcing 11 giveaways in the first period. But the key this night was the Leafs repaying them in kind and tightening up through 40 minutes. Frederik Andersen’s 38 saves compensated for any defensive lapses as he tied Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy for nine wins atop the NHL goalie board.
Just like Tuesday against Las Vegas, the night they ended five straight games without scoring in the first two periods, there were no shortage of opportunities in 15 firstperiod shots, but only one counted. After Patrick Marleau couldn’t get a clean poke at an empty net power play feed, the defence pair of Morgan Rielly and Ron Hainsey worked it to John Tavares, who had another open side.
Toronto didn’t relent when the next stanza began, with Nazam Kadri taking Marleau’s bouncing pass and one timing it high on Keith Kinkaid. It was Marleau’s 600th NHL point. Then came Ron Hainsey’s second sharp looking assist, cross-ice to Lindholm and back to Brown for the latter’s second in as many games.
Johnsson with two more good looks going to waste, including a breakaway, before finally picked up his first goal in 11 starts. Jake Gardiner’s shot hit a Devil and bounced off Kinkaid right to the Swede. Rielly then completely demoralized the Devils with a one-time floater from the blueline, while only trying to protect a Leaf line change. Kinkaid hardly moved on the shot, or a potential seventh goal that was waved off by a high stick. As it is, almost 50 goals have got past Jersey’s goalies this season.
Rielly, meanwhile, joined Thomas Chabot and Brett Burns in the 20-point club at the top of league’s defencemen.
Fourth liner Tyler Ennis, who said earlier in the day that new Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis was his favourite player as a fellow Munchkin, scored the sixth goal with him in the house.
Toronto’s only letdown was due to a sloppy breakout by Kadri in the second period, coming out from behind the Leaf goal and getting stripped by Blake Coleman, with Travis Zajac getting the goal.
Toronto, now with a record of 11-5 and second in the Atlantic to the Lightning, heads to Boston for Saturday’s game with Garret Sparks set to give Andersen a rest before Toronto then crosses the continent for three in California. The Leafs are a perfect 6-0-0 on the road.
One of Auston 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.”
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, Mike 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
Morgan 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.
Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate the 6-1 win over the New Jersey Devils, in Toronto, on Friday.