The Toronto Maple Leafs can win games when they are wide open offensively, but have yet to prove that they can consistently earn points in closer contests. The Leafs received a solid performance in net from Frederik Andersen, who only allowed a Derek Ryan deflection to get by him in regulation, but ran into a hot goaltender in David Rittich, who made 35 saves and stopped all three Toronto shootout attempts in a 2-1 Calgary Flames victory at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday.
William Nylander tied the game midway through the third period on the power play with his 21st of the season, and Andersen stopped 31 shots, but allowed Matthew Tkachuk to convert in the shootout, while Jason Spezza, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner were stymied by the Flames netminder.
“I guess that's the way that it works out because if the two (All-Star) goalies go head-to-head, you end up with a low scoring affair.” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said after the game. “I thought we had a number of really good chances that (Rittich) made real good (saves) on and also there's a few of ours were just pucks rolling on us or just bouncing over our stick. These things are going to happen every now and again.”
A growing concern for Toronto has to be their inability to earn extra points in shootouts. The Leafs have won four of seven games that have gone to overtime, but with the loss to Calgary, they have four defeats in five shootouts. Their only victory came on November 1 in Philadelphia in a shootout that extended to 11 rounds before Andreas Johnsson’s winner.
With an extremely tight playoff race in the Eastern Conference, the extra points that the Leafs miss out on could come back to bite them in the end.
Eyebrows were raised when former Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf was spotted at Scotiabank Arena alongside Team President Brendan Shanahan, but the speculation that the sighting might be indicative of the club having interest in signing the 34-year-old defenseman appears to be without merit.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie indicated on Thursday that Phaneuf is shadowing Shanahan for a few days in preparation for a post-hockey career and not as a potential stop gap signing as a free agent with both lefties Jake Muzzin and Morgan Rielly out injured.
Darren Dreger reported some substantive speculation regarding the Edmonton Oilers having interest in acquiring a top six forward and that were potentially eyeing Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, and Alex Kerfoot. All three would make sense as targets of GM Ken Holland, since the trio is signed for multiple years in the $3.2 to $3.5 Million range and the Oilers are desperate for secondary scoring to take the heat off of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and have difficulty getting players extended or attracting free agents.
Toronto is not about to move one of their forwards unless they get a good return, which likely means a player of comparable age at a position of need. Edmonton has a stockpile of young defensive prospects in 2019 first rounder Philip Broberg, 2018 top pick Evan Bouchard, and 2017 selection Dmitri Samorukov. Holland was said to not be willing to include any of their blueliners in a package to acquire Taylor Hall last month.
The obvious target for the Leafs would be defenseman Darnell Nurse, who played under GM Kyle Dubas and head coach Sheldon Keefe in Sault Ste. Marie. The 24-year-old makes $3.2 Million is an arbitration-eligible restricted free agent this summer and is two years away from unrestricted free agency.
Reports earlier in the year indicated that the Oilers were attempting to get Nurse signed to a long-term extension, but if they are not having any luck in getting that done and see the Hamilton, ON native walking in free agency in 2022, they may be willing to trade him for the help up front they need.
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