The Toronto Maple Leafs without top liners Joe Thornton and Auston Matthews available responded with a more complete team effort against the Edmonton Oilers, as John Tavares scored the game winner midway through the third period in a 4-2 victory over the Oilers at Scotiabank Arena on Friday.
Adam Brooks, Jimmy Vesey, Tavares and Mitch Marner scored for Toronto, and Frederik Andersen made 30 saves in his third victory of the season.
With the absence of Thornton (out four weeks with a fractured rib) and Matthews (day-to-day with an upper body injury), the Leafs needed to get more effort in their rematch to split the two-game series, and got contributions from players deeper in their lineup.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe’s reshuffled forward lines were effective most of the night, especially the checking line unit of Ilya Mikheyev, Pierre Engvall and Wayne Simmonds and the second line of Jimmy Vesey, Alex Kerfoot and William Nylander.
Mikheyev’s jump and speed created a couple scoring chances, Engvall in his first start of the season was noticeable using his skating and reach to hinder the opposition and Simmonds was physical and crashed the net on a few opportunities. Nylander was exposed defensively in a head-to-head matchup with Leon Draisaitl in the first period and on the Hart Trophy winner’s short-handed marker in the middle frame, but the Leafs forward responded by setting up Vesey for the go-ahead goal in the second.
The Vesey goal started off with... you guessed it... a Nylander zone entry.
“What I liked most about the game is just when we go into it without two very important players for us, a game where we get down on a shorthanded goal the way that we did, (we) responded right away.” Keefe said after the game. “Really good signs, just how despite having, in Engvall and Brooks’ case, two guys that haven’t played at all, and Barabanov, a guy who hasn’t played much, coming into our lineup. I thought that we were steady all the way through and I thought Andersen was outstanding.”
The Toronto power play without their top sniper went 2-for-2 on the night, with Brooks scoring his first NHL goal on a deflection of a Jason Spezza pass off his skate and the other coming from Tavares who tipped a Marner point shot past Edmonton goalie Mikko Koskinen.
“That was the first game I’ve played in 330 days or something like that. It’s been a long time. It was nice to get that bounce and nicer to come from a guy like Jason Spezza.” Brooks said. “My first game ever he was on my wing as well. I got him to sign a stick for me. So to say that he assisted on my first goal, a guy that’s played for that long and of that caliber, it’s a pretty cool moment for me. Just the whole thing was pretty exciting.”
Other than a third period tip-in of an Ethan Bear shot, the Leafs were able to corral Connor McDavid, although the star center did lead Edmonton with seven shots on goal.
Toronto will travel to Alberta on Saturday and play two games in Calgary against the Flames on Sunday afternoon and Tuesday night before heading to Edmonton another pair against the Oilers next Thursday and Saturday.
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