TORONTO — Being a backup goalie isn’t always easy. But Toronto’s Curtis McElhinney thinks he’s figured it out.
The 34-year-old was making just his fifth start of the season, with Andersen currently leading the NHL in minutes played.
“The back-to-backs are always tough. Sometimes there’s no morning skate so you’re kinda left to your own,” said McElhinney. “I got a good skate in this morning by myself and things felt pretty good overall.
“Having been here almost a year now I’m pretty familiar with it. I kinda have the hang of it, I think.”
Zach Hyman scored the only goal of the game for the Maple Leafs (20-10-1) just 34 seconds into the contest.
After that it was all McElhinney as Edmonton hemmed Toronto in its own zone for the final two periods looking for the equalizer.
In all, the Oilers had an 89-47 advantage in shot attempts, including 61-39 at even strength, and beat the Toronto netminder more than once only to ring iron.
“Sometimes you get lucky, tonight I think there were four (that hit the post),” said McElhinney.
“He’s a veteran guy who does his job,” Hyman said about his goalie. “Great win for us and great win for him, he couldn’t have played better.”
Laurent Brossoit made 22 saves for the Oilers (12-16-2), who beat the Canadiens 6-2 in Montreal a night earlier.
“We played a lot of games this season and haven’t been able to string them back to back,” said Oilers coach Todd McLellan. “This was a solid, solid effort on our behalf.
“We didn’t win, obviously that’s the most obvious thing, but we’re happy with our game.”
Toronto’s Auston Matthews missed the game with an upper-body injury after being a game-time decision and Josh Leivo took his spot in the lineup.
Leafs coach Mike Babcock said he thought the 20-year-old would be good to go against Edmonton, but listened to his team’s medical staff. He’s optimistic Matthews will be healthy enough to return to the lineup by Tuesday when Toronto faces Philadelphia.
The Leafs are 5-0-0 without their top centre in the lineup this season.
“I think he’ll be ready to go, but I’m not 100 per cent sure so we’ll see what the trainers (say),” Babcock said. “We expected him here tonight. It will be on how he feels.”
Jake Gardiner’s point shot made its way through traffic and was tipped by Hyman on the game’s first shift. Gardiner was originally credited with the goal, but Hyman knew it was his sixth of the season.
“Stick felt like it broke and I got to the bench and there was a crack in it,” he said.
The Oilers looked like a different team from the second period on.
Despite being down a man, McDavid was able to take off from his own end on a short-handed breakaway only for McElhinney to close the five-hole and thwart the 20-year-old’s deke attempt.
“When he’s 200 feet away he starts building speed and it’s like a freight train coming,” said McElhinney. “He has the ability to dipsy doodle and just walk through guys. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else like it.”
On the same power play, James van Riemsdyk hit the post when Brossoit was sprawled out and William Nylander put his hands up thinking he scored, except his bad-angled shot went through the crease behind the goalie.
Nylander was shifted to centre with Matthews out.
“I gave him the option of whether he wanted to play the wall or play in the middle, he wanted to play in the middle, we gave him a chance and I think that’s a good thing,” said Babcock. “I thought he did good. I thought he skated real good. He wasn’t involved in anything negative.”
Edmonton was handed a glorious chance to tie the game with 2:22 to go in the second, coming away with a full two-minute 5-on-3. But any shot they created was turned aside by McElhinney or hit post.
Edmonton kept Toronto hemmed in its zone for an entire penalty kill early in the third, but again couldn’t score — with McDavid ringing the crossbar one more time.
“I thought our goaltender was really good, our penalty killing was outstanding and, in the end, we spent too much time in our own zone. But, it’s a big night on a back-to-back and a big win for us,” said Babcock.