Outshot badly Tuesday night, the Leafs managed to generate some opportunistic offence in a 4-1 victory at Air Canada Centre, their third straight.
Winning without the substantive play to back it up has become a familiar script for Toronto, which scored four goals on 14 shots. Goaltender James Reimer, who made a handful of vital stops to bail out teammates, frustrated Minnesota by making 37 saves on 38 shots.
The Leafs improved to 6-1, continuing their best start since 1993, when they opened with 10 straight wins.
Thanks to a barrage of penalties, the Wild spent more than a quarter of the first period on the power play. That meant Reimer faced a shooting gallery and was by far the Leafs' best penalty-killer.
At the other end of the ice, Minnesota goalie Darcy Kuemper struggled with little action.
The Leafs scored on their first shot, a tic-tac-toe passing play from Cody Franson to Dave Bolland to Tyler Bozak that Kuemper had no chance of stopping. But it got worse from there, as Trevor Smith beat the Wild's No. 3 goaltender five hole at 13:51 of the first period on Toronto's third shot of the game.
All the while, the Wild controlled the play in the Leafs' end and had nothing to show for it until Jason Pominville scored on the power play 17:27 into the first.
Unable to get the puck in the offensive zone, let alone in a position to put it on net, the Leafs endured a shot drought of 14 minutes 40 seconds that ended with an outside offering from Franson. Two shots separated by six seconds was an anomaly on this night.
But quality mattered more than quantity. Mason Raymond took advantage of a penalty called on Wild forward Nino Niederreiter to score Toronto's second power-play goal of the game on just its seventh shot.
At that point, 12:23 into the second, Kuemper's night was over. It was Wild coach Mike Yeo's hope that, with starter Niklas Backstrom still not ready to return from a knee injury, he could give Josh Harding a rest.
"(Kuemper) is a guy that we have confidence in," Yeo said before the game. "If you want to see these young kids can do, then you have to give them that opportunity."
When Kuemper couldn't seize that opportunity, Harding replaced him. But he didn't have to face a shot for the rest of the period and for a total of 10:20.
Reimer didn't get the benefit of much rest because of the seven-plus minutes the Leafs spent shorthanded and the puck-possession advantage the Wild enjoyed. Twice he saved teammates, once when the puck bounced over Phil Kessel's stick leading to a Mikael Granlund breakaway and then again after Dion Phaneuf turned the puck over to Torrey Mitchell in the neutral zone.
Raymond scored an empty netter, his fourth goal of the season, on the Leafs' 14th shot with 58 seconds left. Kessel let the puck go by him instead of tapping it into the net and earned his sixth assist instead of his third goal.
The Leafs' franchise record for fewest shots in a victory is nine, set March 4, 1999 when they beat the St. Louis Blues 4-0. Their fewest shots under coach Randy Caryle is 13, both in wins during the lockout-shortened 2013 season.
NOTES — James van Riemsdyk was scratched from the Leafs' lineup because of an undisclosed injury that forced him to leave the morning skate early. Smith, who was recalled from the AHL's Toronto Marlies, replaced him in the lineup while Troy Bodie was a healthy scratch. ... Defencemen Mathew Dumba (healthy) and Keith Ballard (injured) were scratched by the Wild in favour of Marco Scandella and Nate Prosser. Minnesota can play Dumba up to five more games before deciding whether to keep him around or send him back to the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL.
|Back to top|