Maple Leafs Blank their Opposition for Second Night in-a-Row

Toronto (4) New York (0) Final

By: Gordon Brown

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Maple Leafs have been a rejuvenated team since Mike Babcock decided to shuffle the lines in favour of a skilled balance throughout all four trios before All-Star Weekend. 

Essentially, they’ve relegated tough-guy Matt Martin to the press box. Even if it wasn’t his original plan, Toronto forced their coach to stick with this arrangement following a convincing 5-0 victory over the Islanders in the first leg of a back-to-back situation on Wednesday night.

Even with injuries to several key players, Toronto managed to patch holes from within the organization and have had admirable results. Justin Holl was called-up from the Marlies on an emergency basis to make his NHL debut Wednesday and even managed to record his first career goal to join his buddy Travis Dermott, who also scored his first in the game.

(It’s) “Crazy, you can’t put it into words,” the 21-year-old Dermott said. “You can’t write it up any better, Holl-sy as my defensive partner and all this coming together.”

Aside from the back-end, it’s apparent that Toronto’s fourth line also provides a dimension of speed and skill that isn’t seen regularly seen in most—which has proven to be a challenge for opposing teams. When you see it in action like this, it’s hard to see how or if Matt Martin can find a comfortable place in the lineup again.

Following a 28-save shutout, his fourth of the season, Frederik Andersen would have the night off in favour of backup Curtis McElhinney.

Toronto arrived in the “Big Apple” on Thursday to mark the second leg of their back-to-back and appeared more than ready go up against a struggling group. It doesn’t help that the Rangers recently announced a fire-sale of their top players as the trade deadline approaches.

New York clearly didn’t get the memo, though, as they elected to dress waiver-pickup Cody McLeod to make his Rangers debut. Were his 1524 career penalty minutes supposed to give them a jump? Apparently, he was ready to “drop the gloves or whatever” but it’s difficult to find a good opportunity to do so with just 12:12 minutes of ice-time… But don’t tell him that.

Oh, and they recently added a former Maple Leaf in Peter Holland for good measure. He performed just as he did during his tenure in Toronto, by not doing much at all.

The Maple Leafs were cautious to put on another good show for their dad’s on Toronto’s annual fathers trip—and wasted absolutely no time in doing so. It was clear that Toronto was the better team from the opening draw onwards, dominating in shots and puck-possession, but couldn’t break the ice until the 8:42 mark of the opening frame.

Better yet, Justin Holl was back at it again with the slick snipes to record his second goal in as many career games to give the Buds a 1-0 advantage. He became just the sixth defenceman in NHL history to do so and the first in franchise history since Daniel Marois in 1988-89. In the midst of sustained offensive pressure, his wrist shot found its way through traffic and the far-side post before beating Henrik Lundqvist.  

Later in the period, it was James van Riemsdyk flexing his goal-scoring prowess, thanks in part to a beautiful feed by Connor Brown. 

The 24-year-old has slotted in nicely alongside Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk as of late and proved that point with a mesmerizing tic-tac-toe play—effectively giving Toronto a 2-0 lead in the process. After finding daylight in-between a pair of Rangers defenders, Connor Brown connected with Van Riemsdyk—who finished the play off by undressing Lundqvist, then sliding it through his five-hole with a backhand. Tyler Bozak would pick up the secondary assist.

Furthermore, Toronto continued to dominate the possession game into the second period as New York failed to return from their intermittent rest. 

Brady Skjei blindly threw the puck up-ice for Nazem Kadri to intercept in the neutral zone and carry into the opposition’s end. He entered the zone with speed and attempted a shot on goal only to see it blocked and end up on his teammate’s stick—in a prime shooting position no-less. Patrick Marleau saw the puck coming to his direction and immediately unleashed a one-timer for his 17th goal of the season.

Several minutes later, Zach Hyman added to Henrik Lundqvist’s nightmarish outing and tied a career-high in goals with his 10th tally of the season in the process. 

The Maple Leafs’ big-guns helped formulate the play as Auston Matthews delivered a breakout pass to William Nylander, who connected with the eventual goal scorer as the play moved up-ice. Hyman received the puck with speed and pulled a slick, yet very rarely seen, deke on Lundqvist before flipping it upstairs to solidify a 4-0 lead. Hyman’s 28th point would also tie a career-high that was set last year in his rookie season.

After allowing 4 goals on just 12 shots, that would mark the end of King Henrik’s evening.

Toronto had never posted consecutive shutouts while scoring 4+ goals in their history before tonight—but would go on to shutout the Rangers in the final twenty minutes of play and managed to do just that. Curtis McElhinney came up with a grand total of 21 saves on the night to record his second shutout of the season on the back of his team’s four-goal performance. 

For the Maple Leafs, a 4-0 win would also officially sweep the season-series versus the Rangers.

A much stiffer test awaits Toronto as they get set to take on an Atlantic Division rival on Saturday night, an Original Six matchup nonetheless. Mike Babcock will march his troops into Boston for a date with the Bruins, hoping to take down a team sitting just one spot ahead of them in the divisional standings.

Boston has been on a tear as of late and currently sit just 5 points behind the division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. In that case, it’s a safe bet that Babcock sticks with his new-look lineup.

Puck drop is set at 7:00 p.m. EST.

Feel free to drop me a comment or suggestion:

E-mail - gordon@BarnBurner.ca

On Twitter - @GordBrown_ 

Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs