Maple Leafs Run-Into a Hot Goalie in Vasilevskiy

Tampa Bay (2) Toronto (0) Final

By: Gordon Brown

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Tuesday marked the start of a new work week for the Maple Leafs after returning home from a mediocre road trip, in which they went 1-2-0 against Western opponents. Toronto dropped a 6-3 decision on Sunday to the Pacific Division-leading Golden Knights, only to be pitted against the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning in their return to Air Canada Centre.

In Toronto’s first game home since the passing of the legendary Johnny Bower, a moment of silence was held in honour before the official public service and celebration of life are held tomorrow.

The Maple Leafs only played at home for a total of three games in the month of December, while being on the road ten others. Luckily that isn’t the narrative in January as they kick off the first of six-straight at home and a total of eight in the month.

Frederik Gauthier was recalled from the AHL where he’s posted 8 points in 25 games (5G, 3A) this season with the Marlies. It looks as though he’ll get a healthy shot at being a full-time NHLer under Mike Babcock’s supervision.

In a subsequent move, Calvin Pickard was sent down to the Marlies. Curtis McElhinney made his return to the bench after suffering a lower-body injury… Although it’s more likely it was caused by a Lou-phole.

Not only that, but Nazem Kadri’s return from a two-game hiatus due to a disclosed upper-body injury was sure to provide a boost to the lineup.

After playing through a scoreless first period, either side began giving up more chances in the second until someone was finally able to break through.

Toronto looked to have a jump early on and started the second period with authority. Magic Mitch made an appearance as Marner dominated for two-straight shifts and nearly took it upon himself to score, but to no avail. The Maple Leafs were buzzing all over the ice with momentum, however, the Lightning would finally strike just moments later to break the ice.

Frederik Andersen’s puck-handling prowess forced his team into a bad position after Chris Kunitz single-handedly stripped him to create the game’s opening goal. Kunitz stopped the puck along the end-boards and immediately found Cedric Paquette for a one-timer into the seemingly vacant net — his 1st of the season.

As play continued, the pace of play remained and Tampa Bay kept their foot on the gas until soon their lead was doubled.

Mikhael Sergachev waltzed into the offensive zone and carried the puck behind the net around the zone before connecting with Alex Killorn in front on the doorstep. His 5th goal of the season would create a comfortable two-goal cushion for the Lightning, Yanni Gourde registered a secondary assist on the play.

With their two-goal lead intact, Tampa Bay entered the final frame with an 18-1-1 record when leading after forty minutes of play. The score was at a standstill, yet the chances were flowing in both directions — a sense of urgency remained apparent in Toronto’s demeanor.

A relentless attack failed to penetrate the brick wall that was Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was nearing the completion of back-to-back shutout performances. The 23-year-old net-minder shut the door on all twenty-one of Columbus’ shots en route to a 5-0 win this past Sunday.

The narrative persisted and Vasilevskiy managed to turn aside all twelve of Toronto’s third-period shots on his way to a second straight and league-leading 6th shutout — a 2-0 victory on 29 saves.

Despite the loss, an effort shown tonight would be able to be 85% of the team’s in this league. It was a valiant effort against an even hotter goaltender. Toronto will look to get back into the win column on Thursday when they play host to the San Jose Sharks, puck drop is set at 7:00 p.m.

On a side note, Toronto will honour the late Johnny Bower on tomorrow (January 3rd) at Air Canada Centre — the public service is open to all. Doors will 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