Team effort enough to sink Senators
Scarborough duo deliver, Mrázek expected to be back in two weeks
It was a good night for the Scarborough Maple Leafs.
Michael Bunting and Wayne Simmonds — both from Scarborough — got a couple of working-class goals, leading the Maple Leafs to a 3-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.
And those greasy, gritty goals are what the team needs when its best player is injured and the top line isn’t scoring.
Simmonds tapped in a Rasmus Sandin feed for the game’s first goal. Bunting finished a two-on-one in the third period for the clincher.
“Definitely a moment I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” said Bunting. “It’s a cool experience to be able to get one at home for my first and celebrate in front of that crowd.”
Though they are eight years apart, Bunting and Simmonds followed similar paths, playing for some of the same coaches in minor hockey.
“We’ve got such a tight community in Scarborough,” said Simmonds. “We always look out for each other. So we’ve got a nice, tight network.”
It was far from a perfect game, and they didn’t quite impose their will as Alex Kerfoot — who had a goal and an assist — had suggested they do heading into each and every game. But they took a 2-0 first-period lead, and got solid performances up and down the lineup, even if goals continue to elude some of the bigger names on the team.
Kerfoot himself had taken some criticism for a slow start, admitting anything other than delivering a top performance was “just talk” and adding it was time for the Leafs to start “imposing their will for the full 60 minutes.”
He and his linemates had their best game, with Kerfoot scoring and getting an assist on Bunting’s goal.
Sandin had a terrific game, setting up Simmonds for the first goal of the game and leading the Leafs in creating dangerous scoring opportunities.
Defenceman Timothy Liljegren, playing for Justin Holl, made quite a few subtle defensive moves to shut down Senators opportunities before they started. And he got an assist, with a pass to Kerfoot that set up the two-on-one that Bunting finished.
On the downside, only 18,211 took in the game at Scotiabank Arena. That’s not a sellout, perhaps COVID-19 concerns keeping some fans away.
And the top line — John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Nick Ritchie — remains without a goal, but it’s not for lack of trying. Marner had a breakaway in the third period, while all three were among the team leaders in shots and shot attempts.
Video review: The Leafs led 2-1 after 40 minutes, built on two first-period goals by Kerfoot and Simmonds with the Senators rallying in the second, on a goal by Josh Norris. But the Leafs caught a break with a video review that negated what would have been the tying goal by Drake Batherson with just five seconds left in the second period. It was deemed on review that Batherson was offside.
“I think that was a wake-up call for us,” said Simmonds, who thought the Leafs got away from their game late in the second. “It changes our attitude going into the dressing room and the way we came out for the third. We did a really good job. We didn’t sit back, we kept attacking. But we attacked the right way.”
Bishop graduates: The Leafs were left holding their breath that nothing bad would happen to Campbell because they didn’t have a bona-fide NHL backup available, because of salary-cap constraints and the rules of the collective agreement. The Leafs signed Alex Bishop, a 24-year-old goalie from the University of Toronto, to a one-game amateur tryout to fill the spot.
Petr Mrázek pulled his groin Thursday. He was not in good enough shape to be the backup, but not in bad enough shape to go on long-term injured reserve (which requires a 10-game and 24-day absence). With no roster spot and no cap space, the Leafs had to play with 19 players under NHL contract, instead of 20.
Coach Sheldon Keefe said the team is anticipating Mrázek will only miss two weeks after pulling his groin Saturday, adding that Michael Hutchinson will join the team on emergency recall Sunday.
His salary won’t count against the cap, and he can remain with the team until Mrázek is healthy enough to play.
Liljegren debuts: Because Holl was sick and not available, Liljegren made his season debut. He played mostly with Jake Muzzin, taking Holl’s spot on the right side.
“Just trying not to disrupt too many things,” said Keefe. “He was excited (to get in). He’s played well, we know him. He’s already in the job for us.”
Matthews update: Centre Auston Matthews, recovering from off-season wrist surgery, missed his third game. He took part in the morning skate, and even worked on his own before, but there was never an inkling by the Leafs coaching staff that he would play Saturday night.