Maple Leafs Extinguish the Flames, Again

Toronto (2) Calgary (1) F/SO

By: Gordon Brown

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Toronto returned home from a Western Canadian road swing with a 2-1-0 record, only to be pitted against one of those same opponents on Wednesday.

The Flames were in town for a chance at redemption after a wretched 4-1 loss to the Maple Leafs one week prior. Calgary had been on a minor downswing since that last meeting, having gone just 1-2-0 — while suffering some player casualties along the way.

Jaromir Jagr would be out of the Flames lineup, once again, with a lower-body injury. It’s not a big loss for Calgary, considering his average 13:14 minutes of ice-time comes in at 14th lowest on the team among skaters. However, it begs the question upon his return; Can a 45-year-old Jagr keep up with the pace of play down the stretch run?

Calgary also has to deal with the absence of Kris Versteeg, the word is that he’ll be out month-to-month following a successful hip surgery. In the grand scheme, that’s the presence of two significant veteran’s missing from the locker-room.

On the home bench, Tyler Bozak returned to the Leafs’ lineup after a one-game hiatus due to supposed food poisoning. He’ll need to battle the effects of this sickness if he hopes to overcome his current scoring slump — which is as untimely as it gets, in a contract year.

The 31-year-old Bozak is currently on pace for just 33-points, notably down from his career-high of 55-points last season. Despite his diminishing production, his addition would be greatly welcomed back into the lineup.

As action got underway, it would be the Flames to strike first following an onslaught of shots against Frederik Andersen. The captain, Mark Giordano, got on the board at the midway point of the frame to give Calgary a 1-0 advantage.

A power play opportunity allowed Calgary to corral the zone and generate some buzz amidst the mismatch. The 11th shot of the period would break the ice and get the Flames on the board — setting the pace going forward.

Calgary managed to nurse that 1-0 lead into the second period, but not in its entirety, as the Maple Leafs found an equalizer late in the second. The Flames dominated through two periods of play, with a 55.26 CF% to show for it, but a late slip-up would result in a tie game all-round.

Morgan Rielly’s dump-in took an unlikely bounce off the end-boards, exploiting Mike Smith and his affinity to play the puck. The Flames would recover from the ensuing scramble around their own zone, but the puck would eventually return to Rielly, and his point-shot found its way past Smith for an unassisted tally.

The third period was a winner-take-all scenario, but neither team proved able to cease the opportunity and take a stranglehold before overtime was required. Once the extra-frame rolled around, it was just as ineffective in deciding the game as the previous two periods.

A shootout ensued — with Toronto jumping out to an early advantage courtesy of Auston Matthews on the very first attempt. That remained intact until Matthew Tkachuk evened the field with a goal of his own, soon leaving it up to the final two shooters.

William Nylander fooled Mike Smith and found the back of the net to give his team the advantage, subsequently, Mikael Backlund would completely miss the net and effectively win the game for Toronto.

I’ve said it before, but this could be a strong building block for Nylander and his relationship with head coach Mike Babcock. Then again, he needs to achieve some sustained success in order to instill that kind of underlying confidence. I guess we’ll see what line he ends up on for Saturday.

In fact, Toronto won’t see their next action until Saturday when they travel to Pittsburgh for a date with Pittsburgh Penguins — and their leading scorer, Phil Kessel.

Once beloved and worshipped by Leafs Nation, Kessel has since won two Stanley Cup titles and is currently playing an integral role on a receding Penguins squad. Although he will always remain a highlight of the dark time in recent Maple Leafs history, he’s the ambiguous enemy on this weekend’s edition of Hockey Night in Canada.

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E-mail - gordon@BarnBurner.ca

On Twitter - @GordBrown_

Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs