The Toronto Maple Leafs were unable to find any level of consistency in the first of a three-game homestand, but salvaged a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday, as Auston Matthews scored the game-winner and William Nylander added an insurance marker 30 seconds apart in the third period.
Alex Kerfoot also scored and Frederik Andersen made 24 saves for his eighth victory of the season, but the Leafs once again struggled on special teams, allowing an Alex Iafallo power play goal in the second period and going 1 for 4 on the man advantage.
“I thought it was a tough night for every line. I thought Kerfoot's line was real good, but there wasn't a whole lot. From (the Kings end), they didn’t generate anything either.” Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said after the game, “They had to throw it in, couldn't get it through from the point, the blocked shots. Some people would think it was ugly, I thought it was beautiful.”
It was a difficult night for John Tavares in his return after missing seven games with a broken finger. The team captain missed a glorious opportunity on a Leafs power play and also had some trouble holding onto his stick.
“(I) probably (had) a little bit of rust and (trouble) just getting back into the rhythm of things. Overall, I think physically I felt pretty good.” Tavares said after the game. “I can play a lot better, but good to get back in it. It was a tight hockey game and just great we came through at the end.”
The Leafs play the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday and at practice on Wednesday, winger Zach Hyman skated with Jason Spezza and Nic Petan. Hyman has been progressing in his on-ice work recovering from off-season ACL surgery and is getting closer to being ready to make his debut.
“I feel like I’m really close, I feel like I’m getting there. It’s just a matter of time.” Hyman said. “I haven’t played since April, so it’s over six months that I haven’t played. It’s a prolonged injury, luckily for me it was during the offseason.”
If Hyman returns on Thursday or in the final game of the homestand vs. Philadelphia on Saturday, it will set off a series of roster moves to open up cap space to fit the winger’s $2.5 Million salary under the cap. The Leafs are currently at 23 players and it is expected that they will have to cutdown to 21 when Hyman is activated.
Babcock offered a hint at what the club will do when that happens on TSN 1050’s Overdrive on Wednesday, indicating that the Leafs may only carry the bare minimum of players on their NHL roster.
"We're probably going to end up with six (defensemen). I don't know if we're going to have 13 or 12 forwards, but the Marlies are right here." Babcock said. “If you're playing for the Marlies, you're ready to play, you're playing, you're not watching. I don't know if it's a bad situation, There's no sense worrying about a bad situation, it's our situation. Let's make it the best we can."
If Toronto carries six defensemen, it undoubtedly means that Martin Marincin will be placed on waivers. With Hyman returning, it would mean that Trevor Moore moves permanently down to the fourth line with Frederik Gauthier, and that two or three of a group includes Dmytro Timashov, Nic Petan, Jason Spezza and Nick Shore would be sent down or placed on waivers.
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