TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs had just gone ahead 1-0 when Randy Carlyle called on Trevor Smith’s line to take the ensuing faceoff.
Smith jumped over the boards, as did winger David Booth. The third member of the unit, Richard Panik, sat frozen for a few seconds and might have found himself in the coach’s bad books if he didn’t make amends so quickly.
The Leafs fourth line promptly got the puck into the offensive zone and hemmed the Vancouver Canucks in for a good 30 seconds. Finally Smith found Panik in the high slot and he turned defenceman Kevin Bieksa inside-out before beating Ryan Miller with a backhander.
The Slovak celebrated his fifth goal of the season like it was the first of his career.
“I don’t know if he was daydreaming or what he was doing,” Carlyle said after a 5-2 victory. “I called Smith’s line and it was 10 seconds or it was five seconds and he was late. Then he goes out and scores a goal, so I think that’s why he was a little excited — because he was a little embarrassed by what happened.”
“I was just too excited,” added Panik. “I didn’t believe that it worked out for me. I was really happy and I kind of skated far away.”
It was one of those moments that provided some amusement after the victory, and meant a lot to the game. The Leafs are getting contributions from up and down the lineup, which has helped eliminate prolonged losing streaks so far this season.
Too often they were a one-trick pony last year.
The fourth line, in particular, was a black hole possession-wise and offered next to nothing offensively. Carlyle now has more to work with on his roster and entrusted the Panik-Smith-Booth line with five effective shifts when the game was fairly tight in the third period.
“They weren’t hemmed in our end,” said Carlyle. “That’s the thing. You know that if that happens, or an icing happens, that the big boys on the other team are coming over the boards.
“At this stage, with those players, we don’t really have to worry as we had to before.”
The Leafs are not quite at the same level as Vancouver; at least not yet. One thing Willie Desjardins has done extremely well during a nice start to the season for the Canucks is get everyone involved.
On this night all 18 of his skaters saw some time on specialty teams and every player but Shawn Matthias, who left early after taking a Stephane Robidas elbow to the head, played at least 12 minutes.
Over a long season — one that is going to see the Leafs spend a huge chunk of the next two months on the road — preservation is key.
There are already concerns about Phil Kessel’s injury situation, so it probably didn’t hurt that Toronto’s top player was held to 14:13. The fact the Leafs won another game when their No. 1 line had a quiet night was also a bonus.
While that had a lot to do with Jonathan Bernier, who made 44 saves and saw Daniel Sedin hit two posts in the third period, the forward depth played a big role as well.
Nazem Kadri’s line held its own against the Sedin twins and Peter Holland’s unit was on the ice for four goals. The fourth line chipped in a bit as well.
“Those guys — when you look at the so-called bottom end of our lineup — they were difference-makers,” said Carlyle.
It’s not very often the Leafs have been able to say that.