EDMONTON – In a game loaded with marquee names and eight-figure salaries, it was a bunch of guys whose surnames would be difficult to spot on any of the crowd’s sea of orange-and-blue replica sweaters who delivered the highlights.
HOLL. KERFOOT. MIKHEYEV. GAUTHIER. TIMASHOV. ENGVALL.
Can’t say we saw a single Toronto Maple Leafs fan at Rogers Place (and there was a flood of them) representing for the role players.
Defensive issues, optional zone exits, and a combined 30 giveaways made for a sloppy-good, entertaining Saturday night, but the players who made the most of the evening’s 53(!) scoring chances were not the ones you’d imagine.
“We knew that we had to do a job against those top guys, but we also thought that our depth would be a factor in the game today,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe (7-4) said. “Seems like that’s how it worked out.”
The Toronto Maple Leafs’ rather quiet third line — Pierre Engvall–Alexander Kerfoot–Ilya Mikheyev — crawled out of hibernation to extend the Edmonton Oilers’ season-worst slump to four games and gather a critical six points on a nine-day western swing that Keefe compared to a roller coaster.
As the Leafs fired high and often at Edmonton’s Mikko Koskinen, it was Kerfoot who lit the lamp first, notching just his first goal in 13 games with a laser over the giant Finn’s shoulder in the first period.
“This has been a tough stretch for me, particularly,” Kerfoot said. “To get three out of four [wins], it’s a great trip for us.”
Kerfoot then fed Mikheyev with a nice touch pass in the second, and the Russian rookie — buzzing in both Alberta affairs — found the net for his first strike in 22 games. His shot busted Koskinen’s net cam.
“I am sorry,” Mikheyev said.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) December 15, 2019
“We have speed last two games, yes. And we’re looking good,” Mikheyev continued in his second language. “I long time can’t have score and a little nervous, but now I feel fresh in my brain, and this is good. It’s very important we win. Good trip.”
Those marked the first even-strength goals from the Maple Leafs’ bottom six during the excursion, and there would be more to come.
Considering the steady production the Leafs have reaped this month from the Auston Matthews and John Tavares lines (Oilers coach Dave Tippett dubbed them 1A and 1B), Keefe challenged the Kerfoot line to chip in, believing all four lines should be able to score — a belief lacking in Edmonton.
“They were feeling it today,” Keefe said of his third line. “They skated, they worked, they made plays, they attacked the net.
“I felt comfortable no matter who they were on the ice against, even if it was McDavid.”
Soundly outscored in third periods all season, the Leafs were given a do-over to flip the script and hold a lead they let slip in Calgary Thursday.
Panic didn’t run wild when Cody Ceci threw a puck over the glass in his own zone, and Alex Chiasson instantly scored on a power-play deke, narrowing the gap to 2-1 and throwing the Leafs under pressure late again.
“We have to know the score and manage the puck better,” Matthews warned.
Keefe had cautioned his group about the Oilers’ quick-strike capabilities pre-game.
“There’s some hurdles defensively that we have to get over,” Keefe said. “It’s a mindset. Part of being a great possession team is being an elite defensive team.
“That’s where we have to have our greatest growth.”
So, it served as a confidence booster that the Leafs slammed the door and a Jake Muzzin–Justin Holl shutdown pair barred the Art Ross leader from the score sheet.
Dmytro Timashov and Frederik Gauthier, two fourth-liners who’d been scratched all trip, connected for a pretty insurance goal in the third, fuelling the twin themes of unsuspecting heroes and bottom-six production.
The victory — Andersen’s 200th, making him the fastest European netminder to hit that mark — saps some sting out of the injury news of the night.
Tyson Barrie’s left ankle took all of Gaetan Haas’s blast off a rush, and although the defenceman tested his foot twice during TV breaks in attempt to return, he never returned to the game.
X-rays proved negative, and Barrie was spotted walking in dress shoes postgame.
If the puck-moving Barrie is out long-term, one must wonder if 19-year-old Rasmus Sandin, the AHL Marlies’ best defenceman, gets called back up to the NHL instead of heading to the world juniors.
“It’s great to see contributions from everybody. Goes a long way for the morale,” said Tavares, whose Leafs outscored some tough opposition 15-8 over the course of the roadie.
“We took care of business this week.”