On a day the Sedin Twins announced they were hanging ’em up in Vancouver, two Swedes in Toronto came up with multi-point, all-around games that bode well for Maple Leafs playoff hopes.
William Nylander had two goals and an assist and Andreas Johnsson had his most productive night since his call-up with two points, combined with lots of special-teams work as the Leafs bounced the Buffalo Sabres 5-2 on Monday at the Air Canada Centre.
Auston Matthews had a two-goal, three-point game to support 32 Curtis McElhinney saves and bring the Leafs to 103 points, tying the franchise record with two games to go.
Coach Mike Babcock heard a lot of good reports about Johnsson from the Marlies coaches and, having rested Leo Komarov, this was a night to see those qualities shine through.
“One of the guys from the Marlies was saying ‘you don’t have to negotiate with him every day — he brings it every single day.’ He’s ultra-competitive, he has energy in him. People like that make the people around him better. He was good on the penalty kill, good on the power play, he played hard.”
After being blanked in six games and scratched for the previous one against the Jets, Johnsson’s work paid off in the game’s first goal, completing a Tomas Plekanec feed for his second strike as a Leaf.
“I’m comfortable with the tempo up here and of course there are more skilled players,” Johnsson said. “You have to be more alert all the time. I’ve showed I can play here. I know I can push out a little more here.
“It was my first game playing the penalty kill, but I talked a lot with Connor Brown. There were really skilled players on the other team (Jack Eichel had more than seven minutes of power play time) so you have to work hard.”
Fourth-line production will mean the world for Toronto next week against Boston or Tampa Bay, though Johnsson will still have to get past Komarov, a Babcock favourite, back there come playoffs.
After Sam Reinhart made it a 1-1 game late in a double minor to Roman Polak, the Leafs’ scoring magic began. Johnsson got some man advantage time and the second assist after Morgan Rielly found Matthews open for a quick flick past Chad Johnson. That gave Matthews a point in all seven games since his shoulder injury healed, but he was far from done.
Matthews sent Nylander away with a stretch pass between two Buffalo defenders and enough room for the latter to make his move and go upstairs. On another rush, the third member of their line, Zach Hyman, had all the Sabres thinking shot until he adroitly steered the puck through legs to Nylander for his 19th goal.
In what was to be McElhinney’s last regular-scheduled start in net and possibly his last of this season, pending Frederik Andersen’s health, he made big stops including a Dominik Hasek-style, back-leg octopus in the second period on Reinhart.
McElhinney has a record this season of 11-5-1, already the first Leafs substitute to reach double-figures in victories behind a starter who won 30-plus, a comforting thought when recalling the many netminders shaken up in blue paint mosh pits of post-season aggression.
“The run support was there again tonight,” noted McElhinney, who is often challenged in the second of back-to-back games by a tired team in front of him. “Any time you get a little bit of breathing room it’s a nice way to play the game.”
McElhinney finished with two home games and a great reception from the crowd.
“The first half of the season, there weren’t a lot of games here,” he said. “They’ve been fun games. We’ve been building, trying to build some good habits. Sometimes when you’re stuck in a spot (the Leafs haven’t been able to move up or down for weeks) you can get a little lackadaisical in your habits. The biggest thing for us the next two games will be to make sure we’re fine tuning things.”
Matthews is glad his power-play unit, with its two goals, is finally getting untracked after letting the Tyler Bozak-James van Riemsdyk combo have so much of the glory.
“It’s nice you score a couple to give you some confidence moving forward,” Matthews said.
Polak’s game went downhill from his first-period assist, a two-hander across Kyle Okposo’s chin and then four minutes at the end for clipping Eichel as he raised his stick trying to squeeze along the boards. He also had a chance to clear the puck on Jason Pominville’s power play goal in the third, giving the Sabre a remarkable 55 points in 62 games against Toronto
Johnson brought a stallar record of success against the Leafs into the game, 7-1-1 with two wins this season. The no-quit play of Eichel and the addition of Casey Mittelstadt will also make this a better rivalry in coming seasons.
Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies