Toronto's white-hot power play strikes again as Kadri puts Leafs on scoreboard first. After scoring a pair of power play goals in a 4-2 road win over the New York Rangers Friday night, the Leafs used their special teams to again give them an advantage early in the first period against the Senators in Ottawa Saturday. This time, it was centre Nazem Kadri who did the damage, knocking the puck past Sens goalie Mike Condon 52 seconds into Toronto's first man advantage of the night to make it 1-0 for the Leafs at the 6:26 mark.
The goal was Kadri's 17th of the season, equalling his total in 76 games last year, and bringing the 26-year-old within three goals of tying his career high of 20, set in the 2013-14 campaign. As one of the most veteran members of this young Leafs squad, Kadri's growth as a player on offence and defence has been crucial to the Buds' success this season, and the fact that nine of his 17 goals have come on the power play is a key reason why Toronto has been hurting opponents when they have an extra man on the ice.
Bozak boosts Leafs' lead early in second frame, with help from Marner. The Leafs haven't always been at their best to start periods this season, but that wasn't the case for them coming out of the first intermission on this night. They got their second goal of the evening just 1:07 into the second frame when, following an interception of the puck by winger Mitch Marner, centre Tyler Bozak scored his 10th of the year to double their lead.
Marner's assist was his team-leading 25th of the year and his sixth helper in his past three games. The rookie's superior sense of anticipation and reading of the flow of the play can't be overstated, and his forechecking on Sens winger Bobby Ryan on this sequence was a major reason why the Buds were able to give themselves a little breathing room.
Senators cut into Toronto's lead on Phaneuf goal midway through second, even things up on late marker from Turris. The NHL is a league in which most teams find a way to push back after the opposition takes a lead on them, so it wasn't entirely unexpected when the Senators got on the scoreboard at the 9:16 mark of the second period (on blueliner Dion Phaneuf's sixth goal of the season).
However, no team wants to give up a late-period goal and hand their opponents an infusion of momentum, and that's what happened when Ottawa centre Kyle Turris took advantage of a Leafs turnover and wired a shot past Buds goalie Curtis McElhinney with 1:50 remaining in the second to even the score at two goals apiece. It wasn't the first time Toronto has allowed a team to get back into the game, but head coach Mike Babcock is well-aware this is an area that requires more focus and work in the weeks and months ahead.
Kadri reestablishes Leafs' lead with second of the night, and Brown reestablishes Toronto's two-goal advantage. Toronto had been dominated in the faceoff circle for most of Saturday's game, so winger Leo Komarov took a draw for regular faceoff man Kadri early in the third period. And the gamble paid off, as the puck went to winger William Nylander, who set up Kadri beautifully for his second goal of the night and 18th of the year at the 2:31 mark.
That goal made it 3-2 in favour of the visitors, and 5:21 later, Toronto increased their lead to two goals again when centre Auston Matthews intentionally lost a draw, then made a terrific, no-look, backhand pass to winger Connor Brown, who blasted the puck past Condon for his 11th of the season and a 4-2 Leafs lead. Once again, the Leafs' resilience in the face of watching their leads be erased is becoming a hallmark of this squad - and while part of that pattern isn't ideal, Leafs Nation can't help but be excited about a team that employs so many young players capable of atoning for the group's defensive errors.
McElhinney delivers solid performance in debut for Leafs, who head home for four-game stretch. Acquired on waivers from Columbus Tuesday, McElhinney stopped 35 of 37 total Senators shots in his first game with Toronto. The win was the 46th regular-season victory in the 33-year-old's 155th career NHL game, and the London, Ont., native couldn't have done much more on this night to give his teammates a chance to win.
The Leafs now have two wins in a row as they head back to Toronto for a four-game home stretch that will see them taking on Buffalo Tuesday, the New York Rangers Thursday, the Sens next Saturday and the Calgary Flames the following Monday. The Buds are 8-1-1 in their past 10 games and the win over Ottawa Saturday put them in third place in the Atlantic Division, but they'll need to continue playing well to keep pace in a tight race for a playoff spot.
That's the challenge, but Leafs fans should feel good about their team's chances of staying competitive; they've certainly given no indication there's any letup in their efforts - either from game-to-game or period-to-period - through the first half of the season.