Canada News Agency

Maple Leafs, with Matthews in lineup, beat Golden Knights in shootout

Auston Matthews started the day Monday with a little soreness as he dealt with a minor lingering issue, forcing him to depart the morning skate early.
By the end of the Maple Leafs’ first home game after a four-game trip, Matthews was more than just a little happy.
After his morning departure sent a spike of fear into Leafs Nation, Matthews was in the lineup on Monday night and contributed an assist in the Leafs’ 4-3 shootout victory against the Vegas Golden Knights at the Air Canada Centre.
“I think you’re never really going to feel 100%, but I felt good enough to play and I felt good enough to be able to contribute,” Matthew said. “You want to do things better, in but in the end we got two points.
“I thought we were skating a lot more, a little but more hungry, getting in on the forecheck, taking care of the puck. We got away from that in the second period, but Freddie (Andersen) made a couple of big saves.”
Before a crowd of 19,398, Mitch Marner deked Vegas goalie Maxime Lagace for the only goal of the shootout and the Leafs were able to exhale after losing six of their previous eight games.
In their first game against the expansion Golden Knights, the Leafs learned what other clubs in the National Hockey League have come to know in the first month of the 2017-18 regular season: The team based in the Nevada desert plays hard every night and refuses to take no for an answer. The Leafs will be sure to remember as much when the clubs meet on New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas in their only other meeting this season.
With a pair of goals by Nazem Kadri — he has eight and is on pace for 41 after scoring career-high 32 last season — and one from James van Riemsdyk, the Leafs had a 3-1 lead after the first period, though they were not overly dominant. The Golden Knights scored once in the second and early in the third period to tie the game.
After Andersen had a tough game in St. Louis on Saturday in the Leafs’ 6-4 loss against the Blues to finish a difficult four-game trip, he was sharp in the shootout, thwarting Reilly Smith, James Neal and David Perron.
The Leafs weren’t terrific, and coach Mike Babcock won’t pull a great number of highlights out of the game film, but they demonstrated resiliency. They will look to improve on that on Wednesday when the Minnesota Wild is the visitor at the ACC.
“Any time you have been in a bad spell, it’s usually ugly when you come out of it,” Babcock said. “But it’s a win and now we can breathe.
“Any time you have been struggling, you get in your own way a bit mentally. When you haven’t been a good team for a lot of years and you’re not used to winning all the time, you wonder what’s going on.
“I knew we were going to win a game. You don’t know when. Sometimes you need to go through some of these things so you can get better and yet you never want to be in it when it’s going bad for you.”
It appeared on first glance that the Leafs took a 4-2 lead at 3:21 of the third when Tyler Bozak scored on a power play. But van Riemsdyk made contact with the puck with a high stick, and referee Kendrick Nicholson called it off immediately. The replay showed Nicholson’s call was correct.
The Golden Knights scored the tying goal less than three minutes later, when Deryk Engelland took a few strides over the Toronto blue line and ripped a shot over Andersen’s right shoulder at 6:16.
Matthews later hit the post; Andersen made a point-blank save on Neal with three minutes to play in regulation.
Eager to put any questions about his health behind him, Matthews in the first period forechecked with zeal and consistently was deep in the defensive zone, coming back all the way to get his skate in front of a Golden Knights shot before the puck went in the net.
Matthews set up the Leafs’ second goal, which came when van Riemsdyk put the puck between the legs of Lagace. Matthews dangled, making short work of Vegas defenceman Luca Sbisa, and brought the puck to the front of the net, where it went loose and van Riemsdyk banged it in.
Marner, meanwhile, has gone 15 games without scoring and is keeping his fingers crossed that his shootout goal represents a corner turned.
“Hopefully it is,” Marner said. “I’m just trying to stay calm out there, I’m getting chances and it’s not going in. It’s nice going home with that feeling (of deciding the game).”
Frederik Andersen knew he had no choice but to suck it up.
The Maple Leafs goaltender wasn’t pleased with himself when Vegas Golden Knights defenceman Deryk Engelland beat him on a stoppable shot to tie the game in the third period on Monday night.
Andersen didn’t allow another goal, finishing with 25 saves in the Leafs’ 4-3 shootout victory.
“That was a good win for him,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “I believe the shootout (when Andersen denied all three Vegas attempts) is even better for him because you did it and now you get to feel good about yourself.”
The Leafs improved to 9-7-0, while the Golden Knights dropped to 9-4-1.
“I wasn’t too happy about the third goal, so I definitely wanted to make sure I made up for it,” Andersen said. “It was a big win for us. We’ll take points any way they come.”
And, in the end, relief.
“Yeah, probably,” Auston Matthews said. “It’s just good for us to get back on track.”