With both teams travelling in completely opposite directions when it comes to the NHL’s standings, the rivalry between the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs isn’t exactly what it used to be – at least not this season.
Still, it was an important two points for the Maple Leafs who are fighting for their playoff lives on a game-to-game basis and the Senators found a way to make a game of it. That said, the Maple Leafs did pull off a 4-2 win in Ottawa on Saturday night to keep them moving in the right direction and it started in between the pipes for the Maple Leafs.
The acquisition of Jack Campbell may have just saved the season for the Maple Leafs. Since coming over, Campbell has a 3-0-1 record in four games with a 2.85 goals against average and .919 save percentage – numbers that are a healthy improvement from his predecessor, Michael Hutchinson.
He’s earned the team seven of a possible eight points and the Maple Leafs seem to be picking up the pace in terms of earning points in the overall standings.
But the team seems to be playing more confident in front of him. Sure, they are still giving up far too many opportunities, but their chances on the offensive end and their transition game have appeared more seamless than when they were playing in front of Hutchinson. Either way, the fact that he’s been able to stop 114 of the 124 shots that he’s faced since coming over shows that he might be the answer behind Frederik Andersen.
Sometimes it’s best to make these types of deals prior to the deadline – especially when the team isn’t trending in the right direction.
Matthews Atop the NHL
Along with the success of Campbell in net, the Maple Leafs star forward – Auston Matthews – also kept rolling on Saturday night. And it didn’t take him very long.
Just over four minutes into the game Matthews tallied his 42nd goal of the season to give his club an early 1-0 lead. The 22-year-old continued to set a new career-high with his first period tally and, in doing so, tied Boston’s David Pastrnak for top spot on the NHL’s goal scoring list.
Both of them sit two goals up on Washington’s Alex Ovechkin on the league’s leaderboard and with an assist on Saturday as well, Matthews jumped into the top 10 in league scoring with 71 points in 59 games.
In the process, Matthews also became the fastest Maple Leafs player to reach 70 points since Mats Sundin reached the mark in 57 games in 1996-97. He now sits just two points shy of his career-high set last season in just 68 total games.
Liljegren Records First NHL Point
Speaking of milestones, yet another Maple Leafs player recorded his first NHL point on Saturday night as defenceman Timothy Liljegren tallied an assist on Jake Muzzin’s second period goal.
Liljegren made the pass off to the side boards to Alex Kerfoot who gave it back to Muzzin at the point. Muzzin’s shot snuck through the defenders in front and past Marcus Hogberg giving the young blue liner his first NHL assist and point.
“I see a guy that’s playing with a lot of confidence,” said Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe following the game. “And I can see that with each game, (assistant) Dave Hakstol is getting more confident in putting him on the ice.”
Liljegren played just his sixth NHL game, joining a number of other Maple Leafs’ prospects who made their NHL debuts this season.
Tavares Quietly Adding His Touch
While the focus might be on the Matthews and Mitch Marner pairing, or Matthews overall success this season, captain John Tavares his quietly having another good year for the Maple Leafs.
It definitely won’t be the 47-goal season he had last season in his first year with the Maple Leafs, but with 51 points through 52 games so far he’s on pace for another 75-point season.
On Saturday, he tallied an assist on William Nylander’s 26th of the season in the second period giving him 28 assists on the year. It also kept his point streak alive at seven games in which time he has five goals and five assists.
Maple Leafs’ Third Period Leads
While it was all good for the Maple Leafs through the first half of the game, jumping out to a 3-0 lead, the team allowed the Senators to get close – nearly giving up yet another third period lead. Fortunately they were able to score on the empty net and seal the deal with the 4-2 victory.
That said, the Maple Leafs have given up the third most goals in the league when leading after two periods with 61. The only two teams that have given up more in the same situation are Washington (67) and Colorado (73).
While they were still able to pull of the win, the Maple Leafs will have to find a way to play shutdown hockey in third periods moving forward. Without it, they certainly won’t be able to make a deep run in the playoffs let alone make the postseason.
Also Worth Noting…
On top of the shots stopped by Campbell, the Maple Leafs blocked 21 shots as a team. That’s what a full team effort looks like.
The Maple Leafs played some undisciplined hockey against the Senators on Saturday. They were whistled for eight penalty minutes giving the Senators three chances on the power play. Fortunately the Senators were unable to capitalize on their opportunities and the Maple Leafs escaped unscathed.
From a Senators standpoint, it was a tough night once again for Anthony Duclair who has now gone 20 games without a goal. Duclair who seems to have found a home in Ottawa has 21 goals and 34 points in 57 games this season, but hasn’t scored since Dec. 21 against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Maple Leafs will look to continue their run in the win column on Sunday when they take on another Atlantic Division rival – the Buffalo Sabres.
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Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.