Calvin Pickard Comes-Up Short in Maple Leafs Debut

Colorado (4) Toronto (3) Final (OT)

By: Gordon Brown

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Friday night marked the second leg of a back-to-back situation for the Maple Leafs, who were coming off of a shambolic 7-4 victory over the Coyotes. Despite posting an astonishing seven goals for the fourth time this season — becoming the first team to do so thus far, Toronto struggled to maintain a grasp defensively and allowed Arizona to remain within striking distance.

On the bright side, they did walk away with a victory, extended their win streak to two, and remain in a favourable position within league standings. There was a downside to last night’s win, however, in the form of losing C Nazem Kadri due to a suspected concussion which is being disclosed as an upper-body injury.

With that being said, Mike Babcock was back to the drawing board before encountering Colorado.

Patrick Marleau would slide into the middle and play centre in-between Leo Komarov and Connor Brown — Josh Leivo took Downtown Brown’s place on the fourth line. Martin Marincin made his season debut and was inserted into the starting lineup over Connor Carrick

Toronto announced on game-day that Calvin Pickard was called up from the AHL Marlies to replace Curtis McElhinney, who was expected to start but supposedly went down with a lower-body injury. The damage occurred sometime after yesterday’s game and today, he did sit on the bench as a backup after all…

There were no subsequent transactions as Toronto hadn’t yet replaced Kasperi Kapanen on the roster 23-man roster, which was also sure to raise some eyebrows.

Pickard is a former 2nd round pick (49th overall) in 2010 by the Colorado Avalanche, who he would get the nod against in his first taste on NHL action since suiting up for his former team last season. The 25-year-old posted a league-high in losses with a 15-31-2 record for the last place Avs, in relief of an injured Semyon Varlamov.

Furthermore, this matchup featured two former 1st overall selections, Nathan MacKinnon (2013) and Auston Matthews (2016). Either won the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookies and continue to be a source of hope for their respective fanbases.

It didn’t take long to hear from one of the two, as MacKinnon struck first to get the home team on the board.

Pickard failed to handle Gabriel Landeskog’s initial dump-in and surrendered a juicy rebound out into the slot for a speedy Nathan MacKinnon to jump on — to which he made no mistake and gave his team a 1-0 advantage.

The Leafs managed to counter several minutes later after a Josh Leivo chip-in resulted in a gritty goal courtesy of the fourth line. Matt Martin retrieved the puck from the corner and went on to centre it to Dominic Moore for a quick redirect past Varlamov, only it was Colorado’s own Blake Comeau to deflect the puck into his own net.

Colorado reestablished their lead in the second frame as MacKinnon facilitated the go-ahead tally after winning a puck-battle against Connor Brown and feeding the eventual goal-scorer, Mikko Rantanen. The 21-year-old rising star notched his 12th marker of the season while Nikita Zadorov posted a secondary assist during the sequence.

As play continued, an unlikely contributor in Roman Polak showcased his sharp-shooting skills to even the game at 2-apiece. The stay-at-home defender carried play into the offensive zone before releasing a shot from directly from the goal-line to fool Varlamov — and everyone else in attendance. His 2nd goal of the year.

Colorado jumped out to a lead early in the third period, with a blast coming off the stick of rookie Alexander Kerfoot. MacKinnon recorded his third point of the evening by initiating a tic-tac-toe play to Nikita Zadorov, who handed off to Kerfoot for a quick snipe.

Mike Babcock elected to pull Pickard with under three minutes of regulation time remaining, in favour of an extra attacker. It appeared Toronto was down to their last gasp.

In a miraculous change of events, the Buds were able to even things up with a mere 1:55 left on the clock. Morgan Rielly unleashed a shot simply to get it on goal — where James van Riemsyk’s net-front presence was felt in front of Varlamov. The 6’3” tower-of-a-man created a screen to block his view before pouncing on a loose rebound.

As overtime rolled around, chances were going both directions until a power-play opportunity effectively ended Toronto’s comeback.

It was a dominant shift for the Avs, who skated circles around the offensive zone before exploiting a tired group of Maple Leafs. Carl Soderberg and Samuel Girard hooked up to find J.T. Compher at the top of the face-off circle, essentially setting up the game-winner through immense traffic. Calvin Pickard was left with impaired visions as bodies crowded the shooting lane, ultimately falling by a score of 4-3.

The Buds will look to close out their three-game road trip on a high-note with a 3:00 p.m. EST New Years Eve matchup in Vegas.

On a side note, Toronto will honour the late Johnny Bower on January 3rd, 2018 at Air Canada Centre — the public service is open to all. Doors open at 2:00 p.m. EST at Gate 1 and the service will get underway at 3:00 p.m.

Feel free to drop me a comment or suggestion:

E-mail - gordon@BarnBurner.ca

On Twitter - @GordBrown_

Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs