TORONTO — Michael Hutchinson had more than 24 hours to mentally prepare for a rare start in net for the Toronto Maple Leafs. That relatively lengthy leadup was more than enough for him.
Hutchinson had a 33-save shutout as the Maple Leafs blanked the New York Islanders 3-0 on Saturday to stretch Toronto’s point streak to 10 games.
"It was one of those games where during the anthems I felt really calm and relaxed," said Hutchinson, who got a boost of confidence when he saved a shot by Isles defenceman Scott Mayfield 22 seconds into the opening period. "The game started off and their very first shot was in from the point with quite a bit of traffic and I was able to find the lane right away and make a pretty easy save on my feet."
Pierre Engvall, Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman, into an empty net, scored for the Maple Leafs (24-14-5), who have won nine of their last 10 games.
Starting goalie Frederik Andersen has been the backbone of Toronto’s streak, with a 6-0-1 record and .909 save percentage, but head coach Sheldon Keefe opted to start Hutchinson instead.
It was Hutchinson’s third-straight win following a 4-1 victory over Detroit on Dec. 21 and a 5-4 overtime triumph in New Jersey on Dec. 27, both part of Toronto’s point streak. His personal win streak stands in stark contrast to six losses to start the season with an .876 save percentage.
"It’s kind of resetting and knowing you can’t change anything that happened earlier in the season," said Hutchinson of his recent success. "I’ve been able to come to the rink positive every single day.
"Even when I’m not playing, enjoying the wins, enjoying the successes that other guys are having."
Keefe acknowledged it was a risk starting a backup goalie against as strong of a team like New York, but it was necessary to rest Andersen before the all-star break.
"We created a little extra adversity for our team today going into it, obviously, giving Freddie the day off and putting Hutch in," said Keefe, who informed Hutchinson of his decision on Friday. "That raises the awareness of the team a little bit and creates some extra challenge there in terms of not having Freddie — who has been so great for us — and then Hutch, who is trying to find his way.
"Clearly, he did today."
Semyon Varlamov stopped 20-of-22 shots he faced for the Islanders (25-12-3).
After a scoreless first period, Hutchinson stepped up in the second, facing 16 shots. He made a highlight-reel glove save on Josh Bailey in the ninth minute of the period, dropping into the butterfly but snagging the puck out of the air.
Toronto broke the 0-0 tie at the 13:25 mark of the period when Kasperi Kapanen slid the puck through New York defenceman Noah Dobson’s legs and then backhanded a pass to Engvall, who was skating into the slot and in a perfect position to shoot on Varlamov.
Matthews added to that lead 2:42 later, screening Varlamov as Mitch Marner sent in a long pass that the Maple Leafs centre quickly rotated around to chip over the Islanders’ goalie.
The Islanders continued to press — including a power play with 2:50 left in the second — but Hutchinson held firm.
Hutchinson’s impressive start continued 1:29 into the third period, blocking an Anders Lee wrister, kicking the rebound out with his pad and then smothering it with his glove.
Chants of "Hutchy" and "Let’s go Hutch!" rained down on Hutchinson from the sections directly behind him in the lower bowl of Scotiabank Arena after he made another smart glove save on Dobson with 11:43 left to play.
"Are you frustrated? You are a little because you know you played a solid game," said Islanders head coach Barry Trotz. "If you bury a couple of those chances you’re leaving here with a point or a victory."
Hyman added an empty-net goal with 2:08 left to play. After defenceman Justin Holl dug the puck out of the boards behind Toronto’s goal, he passed to Matthews who sent it over to Marner, who in turn found a streaking Hyman.
Notes: Injured Maple Leafs forwards Andreas Johnsson (leg) and Trevor Moore (shoulder) were both wearing non-contact sweaters but participated in Saturday’s morning skate.