Tuesday, January 16, 2018
The Maple Leafs returned from their league-mandated bye week to begin the unofficial second half of the season with Game #46 of the schedule on home ice. The Buds traded in their beach balls for hockey sticks with fresh suntans still intact, looking to get back on track for the stretch-run following a five-day break.
With all that time away from the rink, the Air Canada Centre contractors were hard at work with a minor renovation to the Maple Leafs locker-room. A new chapter in team camaraderie was commemorated by inspiration from the late and great Johnny Bower himself, as the room’s slogan was changed to, “It’s a privilege. Not a right.”
It’s a tribute to Mr. Bower, which is believed to be a summation of his personal demeanour throughout his playing days and everyday life as described by those who knew him. He truly cherished every moment of his career—it’s an impactful reminder for current players to look up to.
Connor Carrick summed up the slogan’s principle quite perfectly,
“In (Johnny Bower’s) celebration of life, that’s what jumped out to me and I was hoping the same did for them. (Toronto) is a special place to play and to coach. You earn the right to be a part of that. I like to think we all take it seriously.” (Quote courtesy of Lance Hornby)
The new slogan replaces what was previously, “Play fast, play right.”
Additionally, a pair of predictable transactions took place early in the day prior to game-time.
After being sent down to the Marlies for some valuable game action during the bye week, Freddy Gauthier and Travis Dermott were recalled to the big club for Tuesday night’s matchup with the St. Louis Blues. Andreas Borgman found himself in the press box as a healthy scratch as a result of the roster move.
Looking back at their last meeting, Toronto was hopeful for a shot at redemption after their only encounter of the season resulted in a 6-4 loss on the road this past November.
Auston Matthews has already registered at least one point against every NHL team thus far in his young NHL career, except for the Blues that is—and his own Maple Leafs, of course.
The 20-year-old believes his team is capable of a lot more,
“We’re still a ways away from where we think we can be and where we want to be. Just structure wise, we can be a lot better — making sure we’ve got guys above the puck, above their guys, and not giving up too many odd-man rushes.”
It all starts with a big game against a big-time opponent.
St. Louis had also concluded their own bye week and were kicking off a short two-game Ontario road trip in Toronto before traveling to the nation’s capital on Thursday. Jake Allen would have the night off in favour of the 32-year-old backup goaltender, Ben Hutton, who got the nod in between the pipes for St. Louis.
Hutton has been spectacular for the Blues in a relief role, having posted an 8-3-0-1 record with a 2.69 GAA and .921 SV%. His 1.81 GAA ranks well enough for 2nd in the entire league. Meanwhile, Jake Allen’s recent struggles have been well documented over the course of a stint that’s seen just a single win in his last nine starts.
After what was expected to be another high-scoring affair, the game’s ice-breaker ironically wasn’t seen until the final twenty minutes of regulation.
The opening frame saw Matt Martin kick the game off with a devastating bodycheck on Kyle Brodziak, prompting Chris Thornburn to drop the gloves with Martin in his teammate’s defence. The momentum that would follow appeared to favour only one team, however.
St. Louis managed to outshoot Toronto by a wide margin and even double them at 14-7 going into the first intermission. Despite plenty of scoring chances at either end, it was hinted early on that this could turn out to be a goalie battle.
It was a lot of the same story in the second, with either net-minder turning away 12-shots apiece in the frame. Without goals to show for it, both benches appeared eager to come up with the first goal—setting the stage for what was sure to be an enticing finish
Once the third period rolled around, an unlikely shorthanded goal happened to be the play which ended the 0-0 deadlock.
Brayden Schenn’s saucer pass to the point was knocked out of the air and past Pietrangelo, triggering a foot race for the puck. Once he retained possession, Brown sprung himself down the ice for a break—with Pietrangelo aggressively chasing him down. The 24-year-old demonstrated sheer composure with the All-Star defenceman on his tail and managed to settle a rolling puck before solving Carter Hutton with a wrist shot upstairs.
With barely two minutes remaining, Mike Yeo elected to pull Carter Hutton in favour of an extra attacker—which would quickly pay off dividends for his team.
Moments later, a combination of errors saw Toronto’s failure to exit their own zone result in the game-tying marker. Frederik Andersen failed to control the rebound off of a point shot from Pietrangelo and allowed Alexander Steen to converge with the loose puck on top of the crease. Once in his possession, Steen caught Andersen falling out of position and was able to easily beat him for the equalizer at 19:03—which would hold up until the buzzer.
The game was destined for overtime, which the Maple Leafs have been all-too familiar with in recent weeks.
Toronto began the extra frame with a promising scoring chance for William Nylander, only to be stopped in his tracks by Carter Hutton. It would prove to be a costly miss-opportunity as play shifted to the opposite end of the ice in the moments that followed.
Vince Dunn broke out of the Blues’ zone after separating from Mitch Marner, who spectacularly failed in trying to sell a high-sticking penalty only to see the opposition break up-ice. Dunn played a two-on-one against Jake Gardiner, with Paul Stastny on his wing into the offensive zone. The rookie elected to bypass his option and snipe one past Andersen by himself to notch his 4th goal of the season.
A last-gasp offensive effort proved to be enough for the St. Louis Blues—who now improve to
27-27-3 with a narrow 2-1 overtime victory.
With the loss, the Toronto Maple Leafs fall to 25-17-4. While they’re still safe in the Atlantic Division, it’s imperative that they continue to accumulate late points or they run the risk of losing any chance at home ice advantage in the first playoff round.
Detroit also still appears to be chasing 3rd place in the division with a glimmer of hope. Just something to keep in mind.
Toronto will be back in action on Thursday in hopes of righting the ship. They’ll set out on the road for a date with the Philadelphia Flyers, who are still very much in the hunt for a Wild Card spot while currently sitting at 51 points. Puck drop is set at 7:00 p.m. EST.
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Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs