Does Babcock have someone looking out for him as Leafs win another in OT?

Eduardo Harari
BarnBurner Sports Writer


Sunday, November 3, 2019

Toronto. – It was not a good win by any sense of the word but the Toronto Maple Leafs squeezed another win out of Mike Babcock’s magic hat at the Wells Fargo center in Philadelphia.

After a couple of days of you would have expected the Maple Leafs to explode and show emotion on the ice as they faced a very overworked Flyers team that were coming of a four-game performance this week and the second in 24 hours.

Andreas Johnsson said prior to the game. “You always feel fresher. You get some guys to rest and get a practice day and you focus on getting better. Three days is especially good for your mental [state].”

It was a battle back and forth thru regulation with each scoring in all periods.

Kapanen opened the scoring in the first period with a masterful showcase of speed on the assists of Morgan Rielly and Jason Spezza. The play took Philly defender Travis Sanheim by surprise, temporarily gave the impression that Toronto could run away with the game.

“I spent a lot of my time here playing in the halls and watching my dad [Sami] play, so it’s a special place for me,” said Kapanen. “Every time I come back here, it’s a lot of emotion.”

Leaf fans are getting accustomed to the silly and flimsy mistakes that this team commits. Mistakes used by the oposition to take advantage of the situations as it did tonight when the Leaf’s were caught with too many men on the ice. The Flyers used it as Ivan Provorov to beat Andersen to close the 1st period.

The 2nd period started well for at least 2 minutes until mistakes in the defensive end flourished again.  A holding call on Jason Spezza provided Claude Giroux the opportunity to penetrate and give Philadelphia a 2 - 1 advantage.

The penalties kept on pouring for the Leafs as both Rielly and once again Spezza were sent to the box. Spezza made up for his mistake by scoring the tying goal of the period on assists by Ilya Mikheyev and Kasperi Kapanen.

“Just whack it at an empty net and happy to see it cross the line,” commented Spezza. “It was a big goal. I’d been in the penalty box for a couple there and they scored, so it’s nice to get it back.”

The Leafs have dealt with this issue too often as they’ve taken 5+ penalties six times in 15 games. A lot of its sloppiness (high sticking, tripping, and slashing). The Leafs look disorganized defensively on a consistent basis, which creates sloppiness as the team chases the puck, but some of it happens in the offensive zone as well, such as Spezza’s costly high stick tonight (and Marner’s in the overtime vs. Washington). The new thing is their lack of attention as tonight they had 2 penalties for too many men on the ice.

“We’ve talked about this, right? So, if I talk to you [reporters] about it, you can bet we’ve talked about it [with the players] and we’ll continue to talk about it,” Babcock said. “When we took the three penalties in a row, we got off-kilter and got on our heels. I didn’t think we really, to be honest with you, got our game back. To me, you’ve got to play longer and harder than the other team, and we were unable to do that.”

Sanheim earned a bit of redemption just 31 seconds into the third when his backhander got past a sprawling Andersen for his first goal of the season and briefly gave Philadelphia a 3-2 advantage.

That Flyers advantage disappeared when Marner turned a Sean Couturier turnover into his 4th goal of the season and sending the game to overtime.

The true hero of the game had to be Frederik Andersen who had 37 saves through regulations and the overtime but overachieved with 10 phenomenal saves in the shootout period.

“It’s a hell of a shootout performance by him,” Marner said. “That win happens because of his saves.”

Jason Spezza scored in the 8th round and Andres Johnsson scored in the 11th round of the shootout to give the Maple Leafs a 4-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Some of the guys were getting nervous,” Kapanen said. “I was looking at Goat [Frederik Gauthier] and he wasn’t smiling anymore, and Hollsy [Justin Holl] wasn’t looking too excited either.”

"We started asking guys to look up YouTube videos to see what guys had scored in the minors," Babcock joked. "Actually, we have a pretty good list, but you start to wonder for sure where you are going."

Toronto took 65 minutes, 47 saves and a franchise-record-breaking 11 shootout attempts to escape Philadelphia with two points. 

The numbers: 72% possession in the first period for the Leafs, 27% in the second, and 39% in the third. The shots were 12-5 after the first 20 minutes in favor for the Leafs and ended 40-26 in favor of the Flyers, who outshot Toronto 35-14 in the final 45 minutes. Which team was rested, and which was tired again?

“The most important thing is that we win these games,” Rielly said.

“We’re not where we need to be. We need to get healthy. We need to get playing at a high level. I think our schedule’s set up good for us now, I really do. So now we gotta get some traction. We gotta know what we are. We gotta know what we hang our hat on,” Babcock said.

“We’ve got to find a game that we can bottle, where that’s our formula, where we can say, ‘This is what we do and do it every day.’”

For now, that bottle is stickered with two labels, warning consumers of its contents: “Explosive” and “Fragile.”

“We’re 14, 15 games in, and the world’s, like, crashing down on us,” said Auston Matthews, acknowledging the swirl of negativity outside of the Leafs’ bubble. “But we’re staying positive in this room. It’s early. We’re still meshing together. New guys, new faces.”