Start on time?
The Toronto Maple Leafs, with one notable exception, did not start well, finish well or do anything well in-between. But the exception, goaltender Frederik Andersen, allowed the Leafs to steal a 2-1 shootout win Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre from the Calgary Flames. The win was assured when William Nylander scored on the Leafs’ fourth attempt and then Calgary’s Mikael Backlund missed the net.
Andersen faced 43 shots in regulation time and another five in a wild five minutes of overtime. It was the fifth time this season an opponent was allowed more than 40 shots. The most worrying aspect of that is all five times came in the Leafs’ past 10 games.
“He’s been unbelievable this past month,” Leafs forward Mitch Marner said of Andersen. “He’s been the person we depend on and the person that’s really winning us games.”
Andersen, though, practically shrugged off a night when he was dealing with one Flame after another crashing the net when he wasn’t trying to stop pucks. “It was fun,” he said.
The Leafs almost won the game in regulation after they came to life late in the game. With two minutes and 35 seconds left in the third period, winger Patrick Marleau ripped a one-timer from the slot off the post.
Mark Giordano opened the scoring for the Flames in the first period while Morgan Rielly tied the score for the Leafs in the second with his fourth goal of the season.
It is becoming as tiresome as some of the music played during breaks at the ACC but once again this season’s catch-phrase, “start on time” was front and centre at a Leafs game. This time, the Leafs were actually fairly good after the opening faceoff but they could not sustain it and coughed up the first goal to the Flames midway through the first period.
And once again, their coach’s warning, this time after Wednesday’s morning skate, went unheeded. When Mike Babcock was asked about the Leafs’ 3-6-1 record this season when their opponent scores first, he said, “Any way you look at it, when you’re chasing the game you’re pressing and it’s harder to score. Start on time in the NHL, you have a much better chance.”
Apparently, none of the Leafs remembered what happened the last time they played the Flames, a whole eight days previous in Calgary. They started their three-game Western Canada road trip in fine style by getting on the board first against the Flames in a 4-1 win.
“We started on time, got the lead, which makes it easier for you,” Babcock said of that game.
By the time Leafs winger Matt Martin took a holding penalty at 9:27, the Leafs had stopped skating long enough for the Flames to hold an 8-3 margin in shots on goal. They kept pressing on the power play and were rewarded at 10:37 when a shot by Giordano from the point hit the top corner of the net.
Flames forward Sean Monahan did a nice job to set up the goal by beating two Leafs to the puck behind the net. He then fired it to the point, where Monahan drifted to his left and shot the puck through a crowd, past a screened Andersen.
Hours earlier, Andersen was talking about the hardest shots to face. He could have been talking about Giordano’s goal.
“The ones you can’t see are very tough,” Andersen said. “The point shots where a goalie is screened, it can be a little wrister or a 100-mile-an-hour slap shot, it’s not really going to matter because if you can’t see it you can’t stop it.
“Big teams go to the net a lot so you got to work to find the puck more and more in this league. It’s probably the number-one thing.”
The chief net-crasher for the Flames was forward Matthew Tkachuk, who bowled over Andersen a couple of times and stirred things up on several other occasions. His worst offence escaped the notice of the referees. After Martin slammed Flames forward Troy Brouwer into the boards in the first period there was a scrum at the Calgary bench. Tkachuk, who was sitting on the bench, managed to slide his stick through the press of bodies and spear Martin, which was not seen by the officials, just the replay cameras.
However, since the spear was aired widely on television and social media, Tkachuk may be issued supplemental discipline in the form of a suspension from NHL’s player safety department. Martin shrugged off the spear, saying he didn’t feel it.
Babcock was not impressed with Tkachuk’s jab, either, although he thought the Flames agitator played well otherwise. “That’s junior hockey stuff. He’ll learn over time. He played hard. No reason for that stuff,” Babcock said.
In the second period, the Leafs were again in and out of contention although they managed to tie the score with 1:13 to play. Their goal was similar to Calgary’s, as Rielly corralled a clearing attempt and fired a high shot that found the top corner because Flames goaltender Mike Smith was screened by Giordano and Leafs centre Auston Matthews.
The Flames, who had the Leafs on the run again in the third period, thought they regained the lead in the early going when the puck crossed the goal line after yet another net-crashing. But the goal was waved off because the net came loose, a call confirmed by video review.
Courtesy: The Globe And Mail