HAMILTON, Ont. – What’s colder?
A sub-zero outdoor game waged in the wind tunnel that is Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Field? Or the temperature inside the Toronto Maple Leafs’ crease these days?
The scenery changed; the theme remained.
A safe and scoreless first period trudged through flurries gave way to a flurry of goals in the second frame.
Ondrej Kase deposited a wonky rebound from a William Nylander shot off an O-zone face-off to get the Maple Leafs on the board.
Peyton Krebs provided an immediate response, pounding a one-timer past Mrazek to tie the game 41 seconds later.
Then it was time for Auston Matthews — who played OT hero at his first outdoor game, 2017’s Centennial Classic — to do his thing.
Matthews ripped a wrister past his original victim, Craig Anderson, from distance for his league-leading 45th of the season.
An “M-V-P!” chant arose from the toqued masses. (Let’s not kid ourselves: While technically the Heritage Classic was a Sabres home date, Maple Leafs fans flooded the Ti-Cats stands and the Leafs will finish this unusual season with 42 home games.)
Matthews has now scored 38 in his past 39 games and is riding his seventh career goals streak of five-plus games.
“He could finish with 60,” said Wayne Gretzky, from the TNT broadcast booth.
Buffalo responded again. This time in a wave.
A rushing Vinnie Hinostroza threw a seemingly harmless puck into the slot that bounced off T.J. Brodie’s skate and deflected into the Leafs’ net. Fine. Chalk that one up to crumby luck.
But Hinostroza struck again in the third, scoring from a surprise goal-line shot that zipped by Mrazek at a regrettable angle. There’s the winner. There’s the backbreaker.
“For me, personally, it didn’t go well. The third goal,” said Mrazek. “I know he’s gonna shoot it.
“Doesn’t feel good when you lose the game.”
It was the type of gaffe that won’t quiet the Leafs-need-a-goalie crowd anytime soon. Like the one Leafs fan spotted holding aloft a handmade sign that read simply: “I MISS FREDDY.”
Krebs’ second of the evening added insurance, and Tage Thompson tacked on an empty-netter. Lottery-bound Buffalo has outscored Toronto 10-3 head-to-head this month.
The Maple Leafs have now surrendered at least four goals in six consecutive games, their most porous such stretch since 2006, and in 10 of their past 12.
GM Kyle Dubas reasserted his faith in Mrazek (and the injured Jack Campbell) in a televised interview with Sportsnet Saturday night.
“He’s a veteran guy that’s been able to overcome this in the past,” Dubas said, “and we believe that he will.”
Keefe argued that the outdoor environment is an unfair one in which to judge goaltending, forgiving Mrazek a couple of funky bounces. He’s wise enough not to douse a fire with gasoline.
But the coach also hesitated when asked if he’d be going back to Mrazek for Tuesday’s game versus Dallas.
By then we we’ll also know the severity of Matthews’ supplemental discipline for his cross-check on Rasmus Dahlin during the game’s fiery conclusion.
“I haven’t seen the replay of it. It’s battling in front of the net. I felt like I kind of rode up his shoulder, and his shoulder pad rolled up a little bit. That’s hockey,” Matthews downplayed.
“It’s competitive out there. Guys are physical and trying to compete.”
To Matthews’ benefit, Dahlin wasn’t injured and didn’t angle for a suspension post-game.
“It’s hockey,” the defenceman said. “Things happen out there. It’s intense. I’m fine.”
Fox’s Fast 5
• Keefe’s reasoning for moving Kase alongside John Tavares and William Nylander on the second line: He wanted Alexander Kerfoot to centre the slowing Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds on the fourth line, no doubt to bring speed and responsibility up the middle of a sluggish unit.
• The NHL’s outdoor affairs have turned into hockey Halloween when it comes to arrival outfits.
The Sabres went full fun, gearing up as Will Ferrell’s Flint Tropics from Semi-Pro, after an unnamed NHL team stole their original idea at an earlier outdoor game.
The Maple Leafs gave a historical nod to Hamilton, dressing up as Steelco workers, complete with double-doubles in hand.
“A terrific opportunity to honour a terrific company, a 100-year-old company here in Hamilton. One hundred years old, just like ourselves, the Maple Leafs,” Keefe said of the player-driven costumes.
“Terrific men and women that have been a staple in this community here in Hamilton and across our country. I thought it was excellent.”
• Loved seeing Canada’s gold-medal-winning women’s team out in full force, linking arms for “O Canada.”
• Dubas sent a message to those arguing that 26-year-old Michael Bunting is too old to be considered a serious Calder Trophy threat in a race that features 19-year-old Lucas Raymond and 20-year-old Moritz Seider.
“I know they’re four, five years younger than him, but Michael Bunting until he was 17 years old played AA hockey. Some of those players when they were 17 years old were in the best development programs in hockey, and some played professional hockey,” Dubas told Elliotte Friedman on-air.
“Anyone who’s trying to discount him just needs to be enlightened a bit on his path.”
KHL imports Kirill Kaprizov won the Calder at age 23, Artemi Panarin at age 24.
• Both the Sabres and Leafs’ throwback kits were beautiful. Interesting note here from Chris Creamer on the background of the tone-on-tone Arenas design: