TSN Toronto Maple Leafs Reporter
TORONTO - By enduring their share of crushing early-season losses, the Toronto Maple Leafs are finally learning how to win.
Riding a two-game win streak into Saturday night’s contest against the Vancouver Canucks, the Maple Leafs can continue distancing themselves from the victories they let slip away.
“When we opened up the year, we had a couple games there where we wish we would have done a better job in the third [period],” Morgan Rielly said. “To get a couple wins where we were able to hang on to leads in the third is a little reassurance and confidence. That’s been big for us so we want to continue that and keep getting better at that.”
Coming off Thursday's 2-1 win in Buffalo, another victory on Saturday would match Toronto’s longest win streak from a season ago at three games, which they posted three times. On the other side, the Canucks are winless in their last seven games and have been shut out in four of their last five. Toronto is 11th in the NHL with an average of 2.82 goals per game, while Vancouver sits dead-last with 1.42. But looking past them isn’t a trap Toronto can afford to fall into.
Rielly giving Leafs exactly what they want
Morgan Rielly leads the Leafs in ice time this season and is being matched against top players on a nightly basis and, so far, Mike Babcock likes the results he’s getting from the 22-year-old defenceman.
“You might find this hard to believe, but I didn’t know they’d lost seven straight,” head coach Mike Babcock said. “What I do know is they had 64 [shot] attempts one game and 74 the other game. That’s how we get ready. We try to prepare for what they’re doing. Sometimes when you don’t score, everyone thinks you’re playing way worse than you are. I thought they had multiple, multiple opportunities in their last two games, so that’s the team we’re preparing for."
Toronto’s campaign so far has been marked by steep learning curves, particularly on the backend. Goaltender Frederik Andersen’s dramatically improved play has given the Maple Leafs an immeasurable boost, and he's been the linchpin in their success over back-to-back games with more than 40 shots allowed.
“The big thing is, when [Andersen] has confidence in himself, he gives confidence to the whole group,” Babcock said. “When your goalie is real solid, some of those mistakes you make you don’t even notice. You just do your own job because he’s doing his job. He feels good so we feel good.”
Relying too heavily on their netminder could easily backfire on the Maple Leafs, which is why the team has zeroed in on improving play in their own zone and getting better without the puck. With a straight-forward philosophy, Toronto’s aiming for consistency.
Swede showdown: Nylander pumped to face Sedins
The present and future of Swedish hockey will clash on Saturday night in Toronto as William Nylander gets his first chance to face-off against Henrik and Daniel Sedin. The Leafs rookie, who's younger brother Alexander is in the Sabres system, grew up admiring the twins.
“Stick-detail. Pace of play. Physicality. Try to make the ice small,” Connor Carrick said of what the defence corps is focused on. “We’re working on being physical and fast in the d-zone in terms of not giving guys time and space and putting them in areas they’re uncomfortable so we can get the puck back really quickly. It’s as simple as that.”
Home ice has treated Toronto well so far (they’re 3-1 at Air Canada Centre) and Saturday offers the Maple Leafs a prime chance to keep moving forward.
“We want to be a team that’s able to put these streaks together and maintain good play over a long period of time. We have a good opportunity here to do it tonight,” Rielly said. “I think we’re happy with the way we played the last two games. We got something to build off now.”
Morning skate notes
- No lineup changes for the Maple Leafs heading into Saturday’s game. Nikita Soshnikov will remain on the fourth line, leaving Frank Corrado, Seth Griffith and Peter Holland as the scratches.
- Rielly, a native of West Vancouver, has played against his hometown team for three seasons now, and doesn’t give the matchup the special attention he once did. “Moreso my first couple years, now you just have to treat it like any other game. But you always know there’s people back home watching. For this team, it’s just another game. We’re trying to keep a good thing going so it’s a big one for us.”
- [size=12]Ryan Miller should get the start in net for the Canucks. Miller has an all-time record of 32-18-3 in 53 career contests against the Maple Leafs, but he's 0-2 in Toronto since signing with Vancouver in 2014. [/size]